Before deciding to watch the Cats Musical in Manila run and after knowing how much the tickets went for (PHP7,210/PHP6,180 for seats closest to the stage, PHP5,150/4,635 for the next best seats, etc. For ticket prices and show schedules, visit ticketworld. They stage two shows, one each for the afternoon and night time Saturday and Sunday), several other considerations got me anxious. Having seen and written about several staged musicals in the last three years, I’ve no doubt in my mind that our home grown talents can act and sing the life into even the most challenging of characters. It’s the dancing that’s worrisome. Sure, local can dance, but the Cats requirement in this department will call for years of professional training in preparation. I thought the production run will cast locals for all the characters. I recently found out that the cast, save for Lea Salonga playing Grizabella, the producers, and director are from Australia and news has it that if this Manila leg does well, they will consider performing in other parts of Asia.
Back in the 80s, having two parents who found each other through music (this I’m assuming since I remember one photo of my mom propped on a stool, on stage, playing a folk guitar, with long wavy hair covering the sides of her face, looking like Karen Carpenter with her bell bottom jeans and printed long sleeved shirt. My dad played the acoustic guitar. They probably knew each other from inter-collegiate music competitions as I’d like to assume because that’d be totally cool as a love story angle LOL. They both had an extensive album collection of The Carpenters and Beatles in vinyl back in the day), my earliest recollection of Cats the Musical primarily came from a cassette audio tape with two amber color eyes printed on the cover insert. I remember playing the tape every once in a while and being fond of several lines off some tracks. There’s the ever popular Memory sung by Elaine Paige (funny, I only remember the Act 2 version and I can’t remembering ever recalling another voice singing with the “lead” character), two ladies singing something about a “cavity” not being there (made perfect sense when I was little, sue me), “Up, up, up, past the Russell Hotel/ Up, up, up, up, to the Heaviside Layer,” the melody for “a cat so clever as magical Mr Mistoffelees,” and a faint idea of how the chorus for “Ad-Dressing of Cats” sounded. (OMG, I can only recall the last five tracks of Act 2, meaning, I just kept on rewinding that part of the tape! WTF?! So this is how it feels after you’ve discovered the meaning of a Rosetta Stone or something equally awesome!!!)
For the 20 years in between, I never thought I’d find the time get to see Cats either in New York or London. I’ve even somewhat forgotten about the cassette audio tape that I kept on rewinding. Two days before my scheduled screening date, I tried to watch the Cats DVD movie and the movement, acting, overall production finally gave those weird lyrics in my head context. That part where a shoe fell from the “heavens” and the cat chorus suddenly stopped what they were doing altogether, startled as cats would be in real life from a loud sound, sent me clutching my belly in a fit of laughter. The Jellicle Dance got me entranced. The “Naming of Cats” lent perspective to the reason why cats sometimes look as though they’re in a “profound meditation” state (turns out, as the story went, they’re busy trying to recall their third name: The name that no human research can discover/But the at himself knows, and will never confess). Yes, I came prepared for the live act and, I thought to myself, this run better be at par with what I’ve seen.
To get an entire sense of Cats from the prose delivered on stage either in said verse, lyrical chorus, or song coupled with dance or movement is expecting too much from this or any other Cats staging. The DVD movie version and reading the online transcription of lyrics afterwards helped me understand the story more. Seriously, the colors, costume, familiar melody, dance, props, and lighting would snatch my attention away so fast, I am in most times left filling plot gaps in my mind with dance and movements for context. Sometimes, I don’t even want to exert so much effort in following what the lyrics say anymore. What I thoroughly enjoyed seeing were the little things: cats stretching, clawing each other subtly, nudging another cat, gracefully moving from one point to another in the shadows, dance adlibs mimicking movements of real live cats, stuff like that. Seasoned and veterans to that ways of the cat, that’s what this Australian cast is.
Much anticipated is how Lea can perform Memory in Act 2. The entire of Act 1 and half of Act 2 was lined with plots and sub plots that will supposedly make this scene huge. The audience look forward to it as much as the characters do when finally a cat is chosen to be reborn to a different jellicle life. As everybody rejoices, in comes Grizabella, still despised by the community for probably having left them in the past (a popular take on the untold side of the story). The air is filled with tension and older cats keep the younger ones away from the slow walking, poor poised, “glamour cat.” And then, she sings. She sings of the past, how life has been for her, lonely, dreaming, of holding on at those moments when she was at her prime for strength, the cycle of days in solitude, and of hoping for a second chance at life in a weathered but beautiful voice that’s full of earnest longing. She does not force the message nor assert herself but the sincerity in her delivery can make even the toughest of cats believe that she of all deserves this break. Unanimously, they all do in the end. A half-baked delivery of the song and the scene will make the audience wonder what made the tramp deserve such a popular vote. Her standing up as the orchestra swells, ushering her plea to “touch me, it’s so easy to leave me…” should have left no doubt in everyone’s mind had it been sung with deep seeded self-resentment, penitence, and longing. Quite frankly, I was underwhelmed. Yes, there’s power in her voice. Words come out crystal clear and full with not even a hint of a single bum note anywhere. It’s the delivery of the emotion called for by the song and character’s situation that’s been compromised. Was I expecting too much, probably? Anybody would for premium priced seats.
For those who applauded the Filipino verse of Memory as sung solo by Sillabub (performed by Alyse Davies), the lines were translated by multi-awarded poet, Pete Lacaba. It goes as follows:
Liwanag, hanapin ang liwanag
Ang iyong ala-ala ang… gabay na sundin
Sa liwanag,, ligaya ay matatagpuan
Bagong buhay ay darating
Over all, the production value of Cats “Now and Forever” the Musical in Manila is top notch. Everything justifies the cost, really. Good thing they’ve extended up to the end of this week (August 22). For those on a budget, General Admission tickets go for P1,030/P772.5. There are very limited seats available, I heard. For screening schedules, ticket availability, and prices, visit the ticketworld website or call (+632) 891.9999 for details.
Here are some photos from the show.