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Purr-Fect Stars for Stage

Moscow's Cat Theater creator and feline troupe are a hit with the young and old.


MOSCOW — With a flash of fur and a shiver of whiskers, the stars of Moscow's Cat Theater take the stage for one of their many sold-out winter shows.

There's a gasp of appreciation from the children and parents crowded into the little hall, as the troupe of trained felines begins its performance. Some cats climb poles. Some, in striped sailor suits, walk tightropes. Others push toy trains, leapfrog over human backs or balance atop tiny platforms.

Cats are considered by many to be impossible to train. But the owner of these cats, Yuri Kuklachev, has made his living out of the impossible for two decades. He's not giving away his secret: He just says the stage act began by chance, when he was already working as a clown in Moscow.

"Once I found a hungry little kitten, and he became my first stage partner. He sat inside a giant toffee, and whenever I unwrapped it, he'd jump out and stride boldly around the stage with his tail held high. And he could do somersaults and jump through a hoop and walk on his hind legs and meow very loudly whenever he was hungry," Kuklachev said.

"It happened that the caretaker caught sight of us together, and when he saw what the kitten could do, he exclaimed: 'That's real feline theater!' And that's how I got the idea of creating the world's first Cat Theater."

Kuklachev has worked with nearly 100 cats since then, fluffy or smooth, thin or fat, shy or showoff, but all with cozy fireside names like Carrot and Redhead and Gypsy and Charlie Boy.

In 1990, as the Soviet Union edged toward collapse, he set up his own theater in a small movie hall on chic Kutuzovsky Avenue. Here, Kuklachev and his cats have lived happily after.

Today it's a feline shrine: Even the doorknobs are in the shape of carved cat heads. Portraits of past greats hang in the theater foyer, a hall of fame of the stars of cat show biz.

Not all the performers have four paws, of course.

Human clowns, an elastic child gymnast, acrobats, a Hula-Hoop spinner in a spangled tutu and a posse of 6-foot-tall "bad guy" giant mice with flashing green-and-red eyes are also on the credits of this season's special--the "Nutcracker Suite," based on Peter Tchaikovsky's ballet of the same name.

His shows are sold out weeks ahead, with about 300 people packing into the hall twice a day every weekend.

What charms older members of his audience most, however, is not the slick modern touches but the nostalgic memories the shows bring of the squeaky-clean and always upbeat kids' entertainment of the Soviet era.

"I used to take my kids to the Cat Theater when they were small, and it was wonderful," recalled Inna Makarova, 53, as she stood outside the theater.

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