by KRISTOFER PURNELL
Photos by ROC VERDERA
Having appeared on Broadway and on West End for over a combined 40 years, toured all over the world from Europe to Asia, which pretty much started the mega-musical phenomenon, the Jellicle Cats are now a household name.
These felines are the stars of the hit-musical Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on a series of poems by T.S. Eliot, and they are back in Manila for a 2019 run to show everyone just how fun it is to be a cat.
For those not familiar with the musical that arguably shot Andrew to universal fame, Cats follows a tribe of felines called Jellicle Cats who come together for the Jellicle Ball—a special event where they celebrate who they are. One cat, chosen by their leader Old Deuteronomy, will journey to Heaviside Layer to be “reborn.” The cats stake their claim as to why they should be chosen, taking turns in amusing musical numbers to demonstrate their skills and orgasmic caterwauls.
Andrew had for a long time wanted to set Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats to music, having been exposed to the poems at a young age, thanks to his mother. With the help of Trevor Nunn and Cameron Mackintosh, and Eliot’s widow Valerie who gave Andrew her blessing for the other poems her late husband wrote, Cats came to life and the world was introduced to the Jellicle Cats.
This 2019 production at the Theater at Solaire, is the second time Cats is running in the Philippines—the first time being in 2010 when it was performed at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) starring Lea Salonga. This Manila run consists of the touring cast, including the Philippines’ very own Joanna Ampil who has been doing Cats since 2013.
All of the 22 members of the cast (not including the swings) are a delight to watch as they strut in their cat suits made from London by Claire Tucker, dancing to Gillian Lynne’s original choreography that definitely adds an enjoyable twist to how cats would dance on two feet (if they could).
Of course the standout is Joanna, as the outcast Grizabella, who seems to give everything in her performance of the show’s most well-known song “Memory” to close the first act, only to top it with increased passion and emotion in the song’s reprise toward the show’s end.
Also a crowd favorite is George Hinson, as The Rum Tum Tugger, who performs his theme song with such sexual fervor that would give the late Michael Jackson a run for his money. The same can be said of the Tugger’s friend Mistoffelees, played by Harry Francis. The entire stage rises to its full potential during this particular sequence, as does Harry when he does Mistoffelees’ conjuring turns.
Designer John Napier did fantastic work creating the junkyard where the Jellicle Cats gather, and the cats themselves show how remarkable the production and props are when they create cockroaches and a makeshift train in “The Old Gumbie Cat” and “Skimbleshanks,” respectively. Amy Whittle does a great job as Jennyanydots leading the “cockroaches” in a round of tap dance.
The musical gives the audience a chance to breathe when Nicholas Pound‘s Old Deuteronomy and Andrew Keelan’s Gus sing their theme songs. It raises the tempo when Joe Henry and Kirsty Ingram own the stage as the mischievous Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer. It adds a bit of sensual awe when Erica-Jayne Alden’s Demeter and Sally Frith’s Bombalurina perform “Macavity.” Something to look out for is “The Moments of Happines,” which opens the second act, as Holly Willock’s Jemima sings a portion of the song in Filipino (as the touring cast usually does in the cities they visit)—it will be hard not to have your ears perk up when she sings “ang liwanag ay darating.”
Even the people off the stage do a tremendous job, particularly the backstage orchestra led by Mathieu Serradell. Perhaps the best aspect from this Manila run is the lighting design by David Hersey and Howard Eaton, which never seems to be out place. It makes audiences stare in awe like cats do when they see flickering lights. Audiences can walk up to the junkyard stage during intermission and have photos taken with Old Deuteronomy, giant fur coat and all.
Individually, the Jellicle Cats are amazing. Together, they are sensational. Right until the end, everyone will have their eyes on Joanna’s Grizabella, eager to hear her pleas of acceptance and belt out “Memory.” Andrew Lloyd Webber definitely struck gold with Eliot’s words, and he lets the audiences show how important the writer is during the non-musical parts of Cats.
If you leave the theater without a little bit of awe, then maybe you need another reminder about who the Jellicle Cats are and what they can do.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats runs at the Theater at Solaire until Dec. 1. | ticketworld.com.ph