By Kurt Anthony Krug
Howell native Aiden Pressel grew up seeing shows at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts, located on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing.
From Jan 4-9, things will come full circle for him as he performs at the Wharton in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS: the Musical, his first Broadway National Tour.
“It’s gonna be very, very special. I have a lot of friends and family coming out to see the show and see me in my first professional gig – I’m so excited! I have a countdown of the days!” said Pressel, 23, of New York City.
Plato and Macavity
In CATS, Pressel plays two roles: Plato and Macavity, alias the Mystery Cat. The latter is the villain, a notorious criminal called the Napoleon of Crime. Usually, these two characters are played by the same actor.
“I enjoy them both for different reasons. I enjoy Plato because he’s kind, protective, and friendly. I get to do this beautiful pas de deux (ballet term for dance duet) with Victoria (Michigan native Hyla Mayrose Perillo), who’s the white cat, in the middle of the Jellicle Ball. It’s one of my favorite moments of the show,” he explained.
“I enjoy Macavity for the challenge of it, being as he is hypnotic and this super-villain – it’s a very, very different energy. It’s nice to have that challenge every night to be so kind and loving, then also be aggressive and hypnotic and terrorize the tribe. It’s really a nice contrast of characters.”
Pressel spoke about the logistics of playing the two characters.
“It’s a quick change,” he said. “Plato is the cat that I am in all of the first act and the beginning of the second act. Then I’ll do a quick change into Macavity, the super-villain of the show. I’ll do a dance feature, then I’ll do a quick change back into Plato to finish the show. They never meet (during the musical).”
Pressel continued: “The costumes are wonderful. We’re in a unitard with lovely tails, leg and arm furs, wonderful wigs, and an amazing makeup (job) that takes about 45 minutes. Truly, the costumes are very, very comfortable. It may sound a bit weird, but I have found myself checking to see if I have tail when I’m out of costume just because I’m so used to having a tail nowadays,” he added with a laugh.
Bound for Stardom
The youngest of two, Pressel – an alumnus of Howell High School and Pace University in New York City – had always been a theatrical kid, putting on performances in the basement with his older sister. In fifth grade, Pressel co-starred in a production of Oklahoma!
“I enjoyed the process so much,” he said. “A lot of female dancers who were in the show attended Glenns School of Dance in Howell, which is where I ended up training – ‘You should look into dancing. You’re a natural mover’… So I got to take dance classes and fell in love with dance.”
Pressel took drama classes in high school.
“I realized there was an actor deep down in there. I did advanced drama my junior year, which was an audition-only class. I was lucky enough to re-audition and do advanced drama my senior year. Truly, that’s where my love for theater really developed and flourished,” he said.
“Once I was in college in New York City, I was surrounded by the arts all the time and so many different people with so many different backgrounds, I really fell in love with performing as a whole.”
Kelli Falls, Pressel’s former vocal music teacher, sang his praises – pun intended.
“Aiden Pressel is an incredible human being!” said Falls. “Not only is he talented, but he is humble, kind, and thoughtful. He came and spoke to our cast of the musical Beauty and the Beast about what it is like being in a Broadway National Tour. The kids were fascinated, and Aiden was able to keep the kids’ attention for an hour with his tales and experiences. I was very impressed.”
Falls first met Pressel when he was in Oklahoma! They worked together again when he was in a production of Anything Goes during his middle school days.
“We all knew then that he was bound for stardom,” she said. “We are all so proud of Aiden and are taking over 100 people to see CATS when it comes to East Lansing in January! We are so excited!”
Bonding with the Tribe
Throughout his youth, Pressel attended dance conventions where he would take classes from different instructors and meet people in the theater community. This was how he met Kim Craven of Steps on Broadway, a dance studio in New York City. Craven is the CATS resident choreographer.
“I had danced with her in past workshops many times,” said Pressel. “In my junior year (at Pace), I submitted for the promotional footage for this tour. I booked that. I did the CATS commercial for all advertisements for this tour, so I have that connection. I was fortunate enough when this tour was casting to have someone reach out and ask if I was interested in auditioning. Of course, I was interested! It’s funny to say, but the rest is history… I was fortunate to be in the room with Kim again. She’s incredible; I absolutely adore her. That’s how my CATS journey began – it was quite wild!”
Pressel auditioned for CATS in May. He received the offer in late June. He began rehearsals in mid-August in Syracuse, NY. He’s been on the road ever since.
“(Rehearsal) was an absolute dream; it was wonderful. I loved rehearsal,” he said. “We would rehearse from 10 a.m. to 5-6 p.m. daily. We were in this beautiful black box and learning the show as fast as we could. I believe we learned the show in 20 days, which is so impressive and so exciting. It’s a lot of material and it’s very fast.”
Pressel continued: “Rehearsals are great because that’s when we really feel the bond of the tribe. The show really doesn’t work if the actors aren’t connected. I feel like through the experience and learning the show together and being able to dive into our felinity in a safe space was… super special. I think that’s why the magic carries on the stage every night. We’re constantly learning, reviewing, and eager to get the show on its feet after auditions and all of that.”
For Pressel, the best part of CATS is interacting with his fellow castmates on stage.
“Being able to really dive into the story and give a great show, but also enjoy it with each other. The entire thing surrounds the tribe with their interactions with each other and their thoughts and feelings about each other. Being able to do that with people whom you truly love with every part of your being is so rewarding. You can see the difference. It’s magical. It’s that feeling of being supported by and connected to people you love every single night, which carries through in the show; that’s why audiences respond so well to because I think they can read that,” explained Pressel.
Overwhelmed and Blessed
The most challenging part of CATS is that it’s an endurance test.
“It’s a long show. It’s 2½ hours. I’m onstage for 1 hour and 45 minutes. It’s stamina… staying engaged and physically warm,” said Pressel. “We’re crawling around for 2½ hours. That is, for sure, the biggest challenge.”
Overall, Pressel feels fortunate to be in CATS.
“I am so overwhelmed and so blessed to be here – overwhelmed in a great way,” he said. “It’s a dream come true. The people I’m surrounded with – cast, crew, management – it’s been a blessing. To be able to take the stage every night and share this wonderful story with audiences has truly, truly changed my life and I am so, so fortunate.”
Pressel continued: “In the ways of a performer, when you do a show every night… maybe the cities change, but the show stays the same. It really forces you to drop into the moment and not fall into the routine of it; you really keep it real and alive for the audience because there’s someone out there who needs to see the story or just needs to escape to the junkyard (the CATS set) in whatever city you may be. That has been really life-changing, forcing me to stay on my toes and in the moment and stay engaged and tell the story again and again.”
Eight Performances Running:
Tuesday, January 4, 2022 through Sunday January 9. 2022.
Purchase tickets HERE. For questions or more information, call (517) 432-2000.
“CATS: The Musical” at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts, Michigan State University campus 750 E. Shaw Lane East Lansing