CAT EARS, fur, and whiskers are the signature look in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sung-through musical, Cats.
“The makeup artist will teach us one half of the makeup and we learn it by copying it on the other side,” musical theater actress Joanna Ampil explained about how cast members learn to transform into their alley cat characters. “It used to take me an hour and a half, but since I do eight shows a week, it became 20 minutes.”
After the opening number, she goes backstage for a quick change into the outcast and former “glamour cat” Grizabella, the role she dreamed of playing since she was 17.
The latest international tour of the Olivier and Tony award-winning musical — directed by Dane Quixall and presented by David Ian Productions — will make a stop in the Philippines, with performances at The Theater at Solaire in November. It is the musical’s second staging in Metro Manila since 2010, when Lea Salonga played Grizabella.
Ms. Ampil first played Grizabella in the United Kingdom and European tour from 2013 to 2014. The international theater veteran has also performed in Miss Saigon, Jesus Christ Superstar, Avenue Q, and Les Miserables in London.
She recalled seeing an advertisement on Twitter about auditions for the musical’s UK and European tour. “I was in Manila at that time, and I called my agent in London and I expressed my interest since I always wanted to play that role. I said I was willing to fly over [to the UK] to audition, and then I got the part,” Ms. Ampil told members of the press at the tour’s Manila launch on Oct. 2 at Solaire Resort and Casino in Pasay City.
Based from T.S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939), the story begins with the Jellicle cats meeting for the annual Jellicle Ball where the benevolent leader, Old Deuteronomy, chooses and announces which cat goes up to The Heaviside Layer to be reborn to a new Jellicle life.
“You get into this world of cats and you become oblivious to what is happening outside,” Ms. Ampil said. “A lot of people can relate to Grizabella [as] the downtrodden, aging character — even as humans, we can relate to that. Even if she’s playing a cat, a lot of us can relate to her story.”
One of the longest-running shows on the West End and on Broadway, the musical ran for 21 years at the New London Theatre where it premiered in 1981. It has been presented in 30 countries and translated into 15 languages.
Ms. Ampil said, “I’ve had my eye on this role since I was a teenager. It means a lot to me to bring it to my country.” — Michelle Anne P. Soliman
Cats the Musical runs from Nov. 6 to Dec. 1 at the Theater at Solaire. For more information, visit www.catsthemusical.com. Tickets are available at TicketWorld (891-9999, www.ticketworld.com.ph). Discounts are available for RCBC Bankard holders until Nov. 3.