COMPOSER Andrew Llyod Webber’s first memory of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was of his mother reading the poems to him at bedtime when he was six-years-old.
“It was in 1978 that I first thought about setting the poems to music, partly because I wanted to discover if I could write melodies to existing work,” Mr. Webber wrote in the playbill of Cats the Musical. “I began playing around with a more theatrical order of the poems but at no time did I think of turning them into a full blown musical, although I vaguely toyed with the idea of a companion piece to my Variations album, my first solo hit that I wrote for my cellist brother Julian and his rock band.”
When Mr. Webber met T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie at the Sydmonton Festival in 1980, she brought with her an unpublished poem “Grizabella The Glamour Cat” and told the composer that Mr. Eliot “thought it was too sad to publish in a children’s book.”
“I remember reading the short poem in front of her,” wrote Mr. Webber. “My heart raced. Something in me was already seeing that I wasn’t dealing with a concert piece anymore.”
Cats the Musical premiered at the New London Theater in 1981 where it played for 21 years. The musical has been presented in 30 countries and translated into 15 languages.
The story is set in a junkyard where the Jellicle cats meet for the annual Jellicle Ball where their benevolent leader Old Deuteronomy chooses which cat goes up to The Heaviside Layer to be reborn to a new Jellicle life.
The award-winning musical has returned for its second staging in Metro Manila and runs until Dec. 1 at the Theater at Solaire.
BEHIND THE CURTAIN
During a media call on Nov. 7, Cats the Musical’s stage manager Jordan Goff led members of the press on a backstage tour.
Mr. Goff explained that the stage — the components of which fill eight shipping containers — takes two days to set up. The stage is also structured on a slope and is “difficult to dance in.” He noted that the stage design “helps with the perspective” to suggest that the humans are cat sized.
Behind the right wing of the stage are vanity tables and racks of hand-painted costumes made from lycra of which each character has three sets. Fun fact: Old Dueteronmy’s wool coat weighs 14 kilograms. Lastly, Mr. Goff showed one of his favorite props — a “cockroach” headpiece made with tea strainers for the eyes, black bin liners, and bottle brushes for the antenna.
“Everything onstage or part of the set is designed to look like it was part of the junkyard or made by the cats,” he said.
FOR ALL AGES
The current tour features the staging of the version of Cats which played at the London Palladium in 2015.
According to producer David Ian, Mr. Webber reunited with the original creative partners, set designer John Napier and choreographer Gillian Lynne, for this staging.
“He (Mr. Webber) introduced a couple of new members, he changed some of the music, [Lynne] changed some of the choreography. John [Napier] did a few bits and pieces and changes to the set. And that’s very much the production that we’re bringing here,” Mr. Ian said.
Directed by Dane Quixall, the musical features Filipino singer Joanna Ampil as Grizabella, the former glamour cat. Mr. Ian noted that having have Ms. Ampil perform for the Manila run was intentional. Ms. Ampil first played the role at the UK and European tour from 2013 to 2014.
“Joanna has played Grizabella for several years. And I’ve always wanted to bring the show to Manila. And I’ve always said [to Joanna], I only want to do Manila if you’re available to play Grizabella,” he said.
Ms. Ampil did not hesitate to do the show for this year’s Manila staging. “I just love the fact that it’s a different challenge for me because I get to dance in the start, and having to sing “Memory” every night is a privilege,” she said.
Ms. Ampil will also join the production in Singapore after the Manila leg.
One of the longest-running shows on the West End and on Broadway, Cats the Musical is a show for all ages. “[Y]ou can either be eight-years-old or 80-years-old and you can enjoy it,” Mr. Ian said.
Cats the Musical runs until 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). — Michelle Anne P. Soliman