For 26 years, except for 2020 and 2021, Music Theatre Wichita has hosted an in-person Broadway production that caters to families with children who have special needs. The shows are designed to be a safe space and kids are welcome to vocalize throughout the show. It’s important to note that the show is free, but families with special needs must register in advance for the 11 a.m., Sept. 7 show at Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center.
This year’s production happens to be “Cats,” a musical that tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and the night they make the “Jellicle choice” by deciding which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.
Cats is based in a junkyard while the characters prove they are worthy of a greater and better life. Local Set Designer Jordan Slusher made the junkyard the ruins of Wichita’s popular but now defunct Joyland Amusement Park. Opening in 1949 and permanently closed in 2006, this park holds special memories for Kansans. Audiences will recognize the roller coaster and trash eating Porky the Paper Eater trash can.
The Special Needs Matinee is made possible by annual gifts from the Lattner Family Foundation and the Beach Family Foundation, as well as support from Equity Bank. Organizations like Rainbows United and Heartspring participate annually by bringing a group of students they work with.
What makes this production so important?
“It’s a pretty magical experience to be a part of this show, where the reactions are totally unfiltered.” said Carter Tholl, development manager for MTW. “It’s really pure.”
Special accommodations have been made to make this show enjoyable for those with special needs. The production is shorter and will last 90 minutes, eliminating the intermission. Rather than sitting in the dark, the house lights are dimmed and the sound is quieter. In the past, characters have come on stage before the show to explain that costumes, makeup and wigs are not real, so the attendees don’t feel scared. More upsetting scenes may even be removed from the play entirely. During more traditional performances, the audience remains silent, in this case, reactions and vocalizations are more than welcome. No audience member, or the members of their party, need to feel embarrassed, or like they need to stifle the genuine reactions from those in the audience with special needs.
More about "Cats"
This timeless classic debuted 42 years ago. The sung-through musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber was based on the 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. Cats remains the fifth longest running Broadway show, today. It was one of the first family-friendly Broadway productions that paved the way for shows like the Lion King, Frozen and Aladdin to name a few.
If you plan to go
The 11 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 7, show is for organizations who serve those with special needs, or families with a child with special needs. The Special Needs Matinee is free, but all attendees must register in advance. Currently, all wheelchair seating has been filled for this performance, but there is still availability for wheelchair users who could transfer to a traditional theatre seat. The only pre-requisite for attendance is that a member of your party have special needs. Register your seats online by August 25th to take part in this very special performance!
Want to win tickets to see the show?
The production of "Cats" is from September 6-10 and Music Theatre of Wichita is giving away tickets! The giveaway is for anyone! One lucky winner will win two tickets and the other will win a family four-pack to see the 2 p.m., Sept. 9, showing. Fill out the contest entry form below and select the quantity of tickets you would like to win. Winners will be selected Aug. 28 and notified by email.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Who can all attend the Saturday Special Needs Matinee?
Adults and children with or without special needs as well as their families, teachers and caregivers can attend this matinee at 11 a.m. on Thursday, September 7, free of charge.
2. What accessible services are provided at Century II?
Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center has detailed information. For more details, click here.
3. What if I can't make it to the Saturday Special Needs Matinee?
This is an annual event and be sure to be on the lookout for next year’s Special Needs Matinee.
4. What if I can't make it to the traditional Saturday matinee for the ticket giveaway?
If the winner cannot attend the Saturday matinee, tickets can be exchanged for one of MTWichita’s other seven performances.
Tickets to see Music Theatre Wichita's production of "Cats" start at $25 and can be purchased online.