SINGAPORE (Dec 20): From now until January 5, 2020, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical, Cats, based off the 1939 poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, is back to delight audiences in Singapore.
Cats first opened to positive reviews in the London West End in 1981, and while the unusual premise of the musical was initially met with scepticism, it has since proven to be one of the longest-running, most successful musicals ever.
Telling the story of a group of cats called the Jellicles, the musical takes us through the Jellicle Ball, where once a year the leader of the Jellicles, Old Deuteronomy, will choose one cat to ascend into the Heavyside Layer (the cat’s version of heaven) to be reborn into a new life, which is called the ‘Jellicle choice’. It is a strange, almost fever dream-like journey, where cats sing and dance during the ball, each presenting itself as a candidate for rebirth.
The story starts with the cats explaining who they are, and what the Jellicle Ball is, and follows with several quirky, cheerful musical numbers by other cat-didates for rebirth, before it is interrupted by the appearance of Grizabella, a former ‘glamour cat’ now downtrodden and treated as an outcast. She is pleading for a second chance, but the Jellicles repel her.
The cats then continue to showcase their different talents, including an amusing number from two ‘cat-burglars’ Mungojerry and Rumpelteazer, and a melancholy song from washed-up former theatre cat, Gus. However, their revelries are interrupted by the ‘Napoleon’ of Crime, Macavity, who kidnaps Old Deuteronomy, and the Jellicles turn to the magical Mr Mestoffelees to bring their leader back.
Towards the end, Grizabella once again appears to make her final plea to Old Deuteronomy and the Jellicles in the standout number, ‘Memory’, which is the song everyone, even those who’ve not seen the musical, is familiar with. Her desperate plea moves the hearts of the Jellicles, who then choose her to be reborn.
If the plot makes no sense at all to you, fret not-- it’s not meant to. Cats is a musical that dazzles with the spectacle and sights, inviting you to embrace the strange but wonderful; a fact that’s helped along greatly by the incredible cast, who are fresh off their run at the London Palladium, and headlined by Filipino theatre superstar, Joanna Ampil, in the role of Grizabella.
Truly, Ampil stood out for her rendition of ‘Memory’, widely considered one of the most difficult theatre songs to sing. Her anguish was clear through her soaring vocals, belting out the number without ever seeming forced or over-sung. Even if the number itself felt incongruous to the rest of the musical (if you’ve only ever heard ‘Memory’ and no other song, you’d be forgiven for thinking this musical is a sombre one), it was worth everything to hear her rendition of the classic number. One would be hard-pressed, of course, not to compare Ampil’s rendition to the one from theatre legend Elaine Page, but it would do Ampil no justice to do so-- Ampil's was truly excellent, and genuinely brought tears to this writer’s eyes (no shame in that).
While the movie version (out in cinemas on December 26) is turning out to be a cat-astrophe, the musical truly charms, once you get over the slight discomfort of seeing people in costume twitching, stretching and slinking across the stage like cats.
It is rife with catchy musical numbers, and spectacular dancing, ensuring that over the course of about two hours you would be purr-fectly entertained.