New musical sees world premiere in Moody Music Building

A new musical drama, “Hermitage Cats Save The Day,” will have its world premiere at 6 p.m. in the Moody Music Building.

The musical is geared toward children by incorporating audience participation, with an original music score composed by Grammy-nominated musical artist and composer Chris Brubeck.

Pamela Penick, who serves as local project manager, wants to encourage all ages to attend.

“The program will be a great family-oriented concert but will also appeal to university students because of the jazz component,” Penick said. “To have a piece by Chris Brubeck and to have him here is really something that students shouldn’t pass up.”

Brubeck, the son of famed jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, is one of many talented musicians that have contributed to this collaborative musical project. The performance will feature ten musicians and three actors, all from different artistic backgrounds. This group of performers consists of local artists, university faculty members and acclaimed musicians from around the world.

“The actors have been rehearsing since February and the musicians have already had one rehearsal,” Penick said. She said the musicians will have rehearsed four times on campus before they raise the curtain.

Penick said production is made possible by the collaborative effort between the Russian Arts Federation, UA’s School of Music, College of Arts and Sciences, The Russian National Orchestra and the RISE school.

After the opening show in Tuscaloosa, the musical production will then go on to perform in other notable venues.

“After the premiere, [the musical] will then go to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.,” Penick said. “Then they will travel for a performance in St. Petersburg at the Hermitage Museum.”

The play itself, which will feature local director Paul Looney, is derived from a children’s book. Co-authored by Mary Ann Allin and Maria Haltunen, the book is titled “Anna and the Hermitage Cats.”

Allin said the inspiration came from a visit to the museum with her granddaughter and their interaction with the cats.

“It’s such a rare thing that not a whole lot of people in the U.S. know,” Allin said. “In various countries around the world, there are cats in museums, but not quite like this.”

The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, which serves as the setting for the story, is not only inhabited by world-famous art but a multitude of cats.

“With just a casual visit, you will very often see the cats,” Allin said. “It is not a typical museum. Turns out, many of the curators behind the scenes keep the cats like pets at the office. People take a personal interest in them. It’s really a story about human kindness towards animals.”

In fact, cats have actually inhabited and protected the Hermitage Museum for the last 250 years and are to this day credited with keeping the grounds free of rodents. In the time of Catherine the Great, the prowling hermitage cats were given the title “guardian of the picture galleries,” a position they hold to this day. These same cats keep vigilant watch over the Winter Palace and the other buildings on the hermitage property.

The story that will be featured in the musical begins around a stolen piece of art at the Hermitage Museum. The theft of the object then results in the cancellation of an annual museum event celebrating the cats that roam the grounds.

Allin said the story for the stage is a new, symbolic one.

“It’s symbolic on a lot of levels. People have to work together to solve problems. The cats work together and the musicians have to have a strong relationship to perform. And for me, it’s a metaphor for the whole way the U.S. and Russia have found it difficult to work together on the world stage, but in music and art, we can find a way to keep the conversation going and increase understanding.”

Admission for the concert is $10 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and $3 for students. Tickets can be purchased online at uamusic.tix.com. The show begins Wednesday, at 6 p.m.

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