Positioning

Stage manager for Playhouse Square-bound ‘Cats’ tries to convince us musical is purr-fect – The News-Herald

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If there’s such a thing as a personal hell, Emma Iacometta may, in fact, be living ours.
After serving as the stage manager for a tour of “Escape to Margaritaville” — meaning night after night she was subjected to the music of one Jimmy Buffett — she now holds the same position for another production from TROIKA Entertainment, the Playhouse Square-bound North American tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats.”
Shudder.
Hey, you won’t hear complaints from Iacometta, who was raised about a half-hour from New York City in New Jersey.
“I grew up going to Broadway shows all the time,” Iacometta says in a recent phone interview from the show’s recent stint in Los Angeles. “I saw ‘Cats’ when I was 3 years old. It was the first show that my mom took me to see on Broadway, and I was so obsessed with it and talked about it all week that she took me back for a second time, like a week or two later.”
“Cats” will run from Nov. 1 through 20 at the Connor Palace in Cleveland as part of Playhouse Square’s 2022-23 KeyBank Broadway Series.
Based on T.S.Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” Webber’s musical has been seen by more than 75 million people since its debut in London’s West End in 1981. It opened the following year on Broadway, where it ran into September 2000, making it the fourth-longest-running show in Broadway history. A revival opened in New York’s famed theater district in July 2016 and closed at the end of 2017.
After that early experience with the show, Iacometta dreamed of being on stage, taking voice and dance lessons around age 6 or 7 and engaging with plays in high school. It was in the latter phase when, she says, she started to grasp just how much competition there would be if she wanted to work on stage.
“So I just started working backstage on the high school plays and musicals, and I fell in love immediately,” she says. “I was 16 when I first stage-managed.”
Now 26, she’s been doing that for a decade.
As the stage manager for “Cats,” Iacometta is responsible for setting the schedule for the touring company, and she’s who cast members come to when they cannot perform.
“I’m the first person that they call, so no matter if I’m out on my day off, if I see an actor’s name come on my phone, no matter what time, I’m picking up because (it’s) probably them saying, ‘Oh, I can’t do a show today; I’m feeling ill.”
At least as of the time of the interview, COVID hasn’t been a big problem for the tour. In fact, often, it’s injury, not illness, that proves to be a hairball for “Cats.”
“The dancers dance so heavy that even just a little toe injury (can sideline them),” she says. “It’s so hard to do the show with that.”
She tends to be busy at the theater long before a performance.
“The stage-management office is never not bustling,” she says. “Really, there’s always someone visiting. I mean, I keep a candy bowl out, so I think that’s part of it.”
The real fun, though, comes during the show.
“One of my favorite things is calling the show and calling all the light cues,” Iacometta says. “Like, (when) someone’s in the darkness and (then) the split second with the music, they’re in light, and it looks so good.
“The applause is for the actor on stage, but I definitely also feel like (audience members) don’t know it, but I’m there, too, making that moment magical.”
Lastly, she’s tasked with keeping an eye on the show to make sure everything is purring along as intended when the director — in the case of “Cats,” Trevor Nunn — isn’t out with the production.

“The classic phrase everyone uses is ‘upholding the artistic integrity of the show’ is part of the stage manager’s job,” she says. “At the end of the night, we write a show report that goes on to everyone that just says, you know, here’s what happened today.”
Despite everyone’s best efforts, sometimes there’s a goof to record. For example, in San Jose, a mistake was made with the on-stage assembly of a train used in a number.
“So the train was backwards, facing the wrong way on stage, for the whole number,” she says. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”
At this point in the conversation, Iacometta is asked to sell us on the divisive “Cats,” which recently received a fresh round of ridicule thanks to the 2019 film adaptation from director Tom Hooper, which was a commercial and critical flop.
To be fair, this tour has nothing to do with the film and, for what it’s worth, the stage production boasts “new sound design, direction and choreography for a new generation,” according to a news release from Playhouse Square.
“I think the dancing alone is phenomenal,” Iacometta says. “There are 22 fantastic dancers and singers on stage. And the numbers — I mean, the big ‘Jellicle Ball’ at the end of Act One is a 14-minute dance number. These cats are dancing their faces off, so it’s just incredible to watch them.”
She adds, “And then, of course, if dancing is not your thing, right after that, you’ve got (the famous song) ‘Memory,’ which everyone loves.”
OK, fine, we rather enjoy “Memory.” Who doesn’t?
Well, at least tell us working on “Escape to Margaritaville” wore on you.
“That was a fun show,” she says. “The show that I worked on before ‘Escape to Margaritaville’ was a regional production of the show ‘Amazing Grace,’ which is about the slave owner … who wrote the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ and there’s slavery and it’s just so dark. So I didn’t mind a show where they’re singing ‘fins to the left, fins to the right.’ Like, that’s all I need.”
When: Nov. 1 through 20.
Where: Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace, 1615 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
Tickets: $20 to $100.
Info: Playhouse Square.org.
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