SOMERS, N.Y. - With just weeks to go before the performance, kids in Arts 10566 at Peekskill Middle School Theater were still working out their best cat impressions for their parts in “The Concert Hall Cats.”
They scampered about the stage, pretending to run and chase one another, puffing out their chests to strut confidently and responding obediently when their owners called.
They’ll perform the play, which is based on a book of the same name written by Somers Town Justice Michael McDermott, wife Fausta McDermott and illustrated by son Joe McDermott, at 7 p.m. Friday, June 15, at the Peekskill Middle School Theater, 212 Ringgold St., Peekskill.
“It’s about cats and dogs working together to open the concert hall and keep it open,” 9-year-old Jalani Dunn-Moore said of the McDermotts’ book during a rehearsal break. “I love it. It was interesting and got my attention.”
It got the attention, too, of Wilfredo Morel, the executive director of Arts 10566, which brings arts to underserved children.
Morel was at a networking event in Putnam County when he met Michael and Fausta McDermott and told the Somers family about his effort to create an arts program at The Kiley Center in Peekskill, a place that had developed an unsavory reputation.
“I told him about the Kiley being a place that not too many people will go because of perception, and he said, hold on one second and went out to his car and brought back his book,” Morel said. “It was about this dilapidated theater that no one wanted but it was refurbished by this group of cats and I just saw the connection between the story and the story of the Kiley and the community and all that.”
Every year, Arts 10566 puts on a play based on a story in the community and this year Morel decided the McDermotts’ book would be the inspiration.
The children’s book, which has won numerous awards for the writing and visuals, is about a family of cats who live in the attic of a majestic old concert hall. The landlords decide to tear down the concert hall because of dwindling attendance and the cats hatch a last-minute plan to save the hall.
The book was written in 2015 by Michael and Fausta McDermott and illustrated by their son, Joseph, who works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
To transform the book into a play, Morel asked his artists friends for help. Garth Sealey, who has written scripts for several movies, is the show’s playwright. Scarlett Antonia, who has presented original and classic shows on Broadway, at the Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center and Paramount Center, is the director.
But on the day of the show, the kids in Arts 10566 take on every part of the direction and production. With 161 kids in the program, some are on the stage and some participate behind the scenes doing set design and production.
Through a grant, Morel was also able to give every child in the program a copy of the McDermotts’ book.
“It’s more than just the production, it’s the message but also it’s the inclusion and the opportunity that we’re giving to our students so that they could have the experience of what it’s like to be in show business and to be a director,” Morel said.
Michael McDermott said it’s “very exciting” seeing his book being acted out by children for whom it was written.
“I’ve seen snippets of it (in rehearsals),” Michael McDermott said. “It will be very exciting seeing it from beginning to end.”
For more information about Arts 10566, visit http://www.arts10566.org/. The McDermott’s book, “The Concert Hall Cats,” is available on Amazon.