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'Cats' Magical For San Diego Dancer

March 14, 1986|EILEEN SONDAK

LOS ANGELES — Jamie Torcellini's name has never been a household word in San Diego. He has been too busy beating a path to Broadway and dancing major roles on the international touring circuit to develop a following in his own hometown.

In fact, despite his multiple successes in productions of "A Chorus Line" and "Cats," Torcellini's recognition factor is relatively low.

"I didn't stay in San Diego long enough to be known, and now I'm a glorified chorus boy," he said. "People don't really know who I am. They just know me as Mike in 'Chorus Line' and Mistoffelees in 'Cats.' But everyone (in show business) knows me."

During a recent interview from his dressing room at the Shubert Theatre, Torcellini, 26, confessed to being high on life as a song and dance man. As he talked about his experiences in musical comedy, he was still reeling from his show-stopping performance as the wily cat Mistoffelees, a role he danced on Broadway before joining the Los Angeles cast of "Cats" a few weeks ago.

"I love doing the show," he said. "During the Saturday and Sunday matinees, when the children are there, if you could just see their faces. That makes it all worthwhile."

As understudy to David Cassidy in "Little Johnny Jones," Torcellini got his chance to carry the brunt of a big dance show when the star was sidelined with an injury. But as Torcellini tells it, performing in "Cats" is even more of a challenge.

"It's the hardest thing I've ever done by far," he said. "There's a lot of ballet in it. In fact, it's the first ballet role I ever had to tackle."

Mistoffelees is a master magician. Consequently, choreographer Gillian Lynne conjured up a fiendishly difficult dance solo.

After dropping in on the company of cats from 50 feet above the stage, Mistoffelees must zip through a series of spiraling turns at breakneck speed--and on a slick floor designed with a dangerous rake. The black swan's 32- fouette variation in "Swan Lake" has nothing on Mistoffelees' frisky display of pyrotechnics in "Cats."

Torcellini, like many San Diego performers, began his training at the San Diego Junior Theater. Surprisingly, he did not set out on a course for show business, despite his multiple gifts as a dancer, singer and actor.

"I was pulled along by people--my friends," he said. "It wasn't until I was 17 and started USIU that I began to think seriously about a career." He studied at United States International University's musical theater program.

The turning point for Torcellini came when he auditioned for "A Chorus Line" during the touring company's brief stay in San Diego.

"That day really changed my life," Torcellini said.

He was accepted into the company then and there, and at the age of 19 began his national career not far from the top in the competitive world of musical theater.

"I was very lucky," he said. "But I'd still love to come back to San Diego. I was there as an understudy in 'Little Johnny Jones.' " That tap-dancing musical couldn't cut the mustard on Broadway.

Don Ward, artistic director of Starlight and Torcellini's mentor at Junior Theater, "called and offered me a chance to do Mike in 'A Chorus Line' last summer, but I couldn't get away then. I hope to get another opportunity to return to Starlight." Torcellini said. Torcellini began his professional career at Starlight when he was 16, playing the Prince in "The King and I."

"Cats" has been a career-killer for some of its dancers. Taxing choreographic demands and an off-kilter stage for dancing are the culprits. But Torcellini is determined to stay with the show as long as he can.

"I've learned how to detect injuries before they come. You just can't let yourself get overtired," he said. "Some dancers don't know when to quit, but you have to listen to your body. I learned to do that in 'A Chorus Line.' "

Torcellini would love to do a tap-dancing show and some day plans to do choreography.

"But, for now, I just want to dance. When I stop having fun at dancing, then I'll think about other things. Right now, dancing is everything to me."

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