In The Pipeline: This 'Cat' is no kitten

The national touring company of the iconic musical "Cats" has returned to Orange County (it's at Segerstrom Center for the Arts until Sunday), and happily for one of the feline performers, she has been able to finally curl up in her own bed at night.

Madison Mitchell, who portrays Demeter in the show, recently began her second year in the show, which has taken her all over North America (and Hawaii) more than once. While she loves her current role, she has also enjoyed playing Jo in "Little Women," Anita in "West Side Story" and Luisa in "The Fantasticks."

Thrilled to be able to spend a few nights at home with her family in Anaheim, the former Orange County High School of the Arts and Huntington Beach High School's Academy for the Performing Arts student is also enjoying the chance to have old friends and family come see her perform.

Speaking to her, one is struck by her poise, maturity and seasoned-pro savvy.

All the more impressive when you consider that she is just 19 years old.

As a sophomore in high school, she decided that she was ready to pursue her childhood dreams in the footlights. She pitched the idea to her folks, who in turn allowed her to take the California High School Proficiency Exam and then begin her career in earnest. Almost immediately, she landed the part in "Cats" and has been on the road almost nonstop since then, touring nine months in her first year (with a similar schedule coming up for 2012).

Though she was born more than 10 years after Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" premiered in London's West End in 1981, she became intrigued with the show after seeing a commercial for it on an old VHS tape she and her older sister (also a dancer) used to watch. When she got the chance to audition, she thought about that old commercial and how magical the show seemed.

And now here she is, front and center in one of the most challenging dance productions in Broadway history.

"The show itself is exhausting," she told me. "Very physical and intense. But during the hard moments on stage, I always think of the alternatives and there's nothing else I'd rather be doing right now."

She'd seen "Cats" once at the Fullerton Civic Light Opera but had never performed it in Orange County until now. In fact, it's her first time ever performing in the vaunted theater, and the significance was not lost on her. Recently, a friends of hers performing there in "Shrek the Musical" walked her out on stage one quiet afternoon, and it took Mitchell's breath away. She then posted a photo of the empty house on her cast's Facebook page to get them as excited as she was.

Fully aware of the fact the she made an unconventional move by leaving high school early, Mitchell told me that when she goes out and speaks at schools today, offering advice to up-and-coming performers, she can't help but preach what she practiced.

"It was right for me," she said, "but everyone has to do what's right for them. I really believe that, and I also tell students that it's important to learn from the adults around you. They are the experts, they have been there, and they will help you find your way."

I have not met many 19-year-olds like Orange County's own Madison Mitchell, and she certainly seems like a performer who will be worth watching in the future. I hope you have a chance to see her and her clowder of other cats this weekend.

"Cats" runs at Segerstrom Center for the Arts until Sunday. For ticket information, call (714) 556-2787.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at

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