It's kind of like "Cats 2.0," one cast member said.
The Manatee Players staged a very popular production of "Cats" in 2008, back in the old Riverfront Theatre.
Now, in its glitzy, still-new home at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, the company is bringing back the ground-breaking Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. It opens the 2015-16 Manatee Players season today.
DeWayne Barrett was the director and choreographer for that first run, and he's back again this time. He's expecting this version to be even better.
"We have a cast of 30 and they're all triple-threats," he said. "All of them. They can sing, dance and act. That's amazing for community theater."
In fact, he said, it would be remarkable for professional theater. It's not unusual for major productions of "Cats" to use off-stage singers, because not too many performers have the combination of talents the show demands. That is not the case in this production.
Even though Barrett directed the show before, and a few of the cast members are back, this is a very different production.
The venue itself is one reason, he said. The detritus that makes up the set -- the action of the play takes place in a junkyard -- can be much larger on the Stone Hall stage, and that makes the actors appear appropriately smaller, closer to the scale of actual cats.
But most people who have seen "Cats" have seen it in much larger venues, such as Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, where it has toured often.
For people who know "Cats" from large theaters, Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts offers a more intimate experience.
"Everybody in the theater can touch the cats," Barrett said. "They go all the way to the back row."
(A central conceit of any production of "Cats" is that the cats are aware of the audience, and often leave the stage to interact with the humans.)
Most of the cast is made of up of Manatee Players newcomers, Barrett said, some of whom auditioned for the company for the first time specifically because they've always wanted to perform in "Cats."
Logan O'Neill is one of them. He recently returned to Manatee County from New York, where he worked as a performer.
"Cats" was the first show he had ever seen on Broadway, when he was a teenager. He and his friend got standing-room tickets, but at intermission they sneaked into some vacant front-row seats and watched the rest of the show from there.
After he moved to New York, he auditioned for "Cats" and came very close to being cast.
"I'm a big 'Cats' fan," he said. "I remember dancing around my grandmother's garage to the music from 'Cats.' I must have been about 8."
He'll be Munkustrap, the main narrator, in this production.
The only performer who's back in the same role from that earlier Manatee Players production is Tahlia Joanna Byers, who plays Victoria. She's also the assistant director this time.
Byers pretty much grew up on the Manatee Players stage, and now she dances professionally at Universal Studios Orlando.
She's long been a devoted "Cats" fancier, and it's been her favorite of the many shows she's worked on for Manatee Players.
"I love this show and DeWayne is my favorite director," she said. "To do my favorite show with my favorite director in my home theater, that's pretty much a dream come true."
Details: Aug. 13-30, Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $27-$37. Information: 941-748-5875, manateeperformingartscenter.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.