IF THERE is one reason for you to go and see Cats at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), then it has got to be the amazing Lea Salonga. Yes, I think it is worth listening to THE LEA SALONGA even if she is on stage for a mere 12 minutes out of the three hours at the CCP show - the shortest she has ever been on a musical stage. Yup, it is much shorter than her stint in my favorite musical - Les Miserables.
If you continue to compare her vocal prowess during her Repertory Philippines days to her "That's Entertainment" era, onwards towards her Miss Saigon stint, and recordings and performances beyond that career-turning opportunity, which includes a recording with Dame Julie Andrews and Sir Ben Kingsley (The King and I), as well as recordings as Disney's princess on two occasions, and other stints on stage in London and New York, you just get amazed by her continued improvement. Just when you heard her at her best after Miss Saigon, she continuously tops her previous performance over and over again. When I thought if it was ever possible for her to out-do herself in that King and I recording, you get the affirmative when she performed in Miss Saigon Manila years ago. Once more, when you think she has reached her peak, you get other performances that are better. You now wonder if her turn as Grizabella is purrrfection. Meow. Don't hold your breath. She has consistently showed she can top her previous performances. You get bowled over by her continued progression towards purrrfection.
Another reason to catch Cats is for you to be able to listen to the parts of Memory in Filipino! Now that was a PLEASANT SURPRISE! It was totally out of left field. Something you never thought of to be a reality.
Other reasons? The production numbers of course. If you are into dance, then you'd know that this is one show you would definitely want to see. The numbers are wonderful and you'd wish to see So You Think You Can Dance contestants tackle the choreography in the musical. Hats off to Cats Dance Captain Adrian Ricks, who plays my favorite Cats character Mr. Mistoffelees, for making a cohesive unit.
After watching Mr. Ricks as Mr. Mistoffelees perform those fouettes en tournants, you get to understand why Mr. John O'Hara (Rum Tum Tugger) stated in the past that they missed Mr. Ricks when he was out of the production for some time.
He definitely was amazing. O'Hara was not a slouch either, playing the rocker cat to the hilt so much so that their improvisation towards the end of the Rum Tum Tugger section at the early part of the musical brought the house down (more on this later). Other cast members also danced real well, in particular Mr. Shaun Rennie who plays the lovable and respectable Munkustrap. I am happy to say that my favorite female feline, Cassandra, was ably performed by Emma Clark. Stephanie Silcock who plays Victoria, was also wonderful. Sharyn Winney played Jemima very well, with her vocals in particular coming to the fore with clarity, which is one of the things that this production lacked a bit.
The production was not purrrfect. But it wasn't bad either. It just left you dumbfounded in that it could have been better. Comparing it with giant musical productions of the past like Les Mis and Miss Saigon, this production falls a little bit short of the standard previously set. Yes, it is true that some differences have to be noted in that Cats is much more demanding physically on the cast as there is more dancing in Cats than say Les Mis. This demand on the physical endurance of a cast member really takes a lot out of your lung reserve so much so that enunciating lyrics, or even the dialogue of the naming of cats comes out garbled. Doing the three-hour production on a daily basis, with matinees on the weekends, in the middle of its month-long run is like asking a marathon runner to run at the pace of an 800 meter or 1,500 meter run. You will huff and puff your way to fill your lungs with oxygen. What was also noted in the naming of cats portion of the musical was that our actors came out waiting for each other in speaking out their lines. The letter "S" most often came out prolonged to be heard as "sssss..." like the hisssing of a sssnake.
Where the dance excelled, which I hope would inspire the Filipino to take it up, the vocals just came short. You could hear the actors running out of breath as they sang and danced. Mr. O'Hara says they exercise so much. They run, go to the gym, and even take Pilates. Well, I think the company has to re-think their program on physical endurance. Doing a matinee and another performance at night demands so much from the body. This has to be addressed.
Now let me digress and leave the production and take this opportunity to talk about theatre etiquette. It is annoying when the audience does not turn their mobile phones off and even have the gall and the nerve to make a call in the middle of the show. I am surprised that the CCP does not come out with fliers or reminders in print as what Repertory Philippines does. Reminders in the entrance, as well as in the ticket, seems to be sedate. Perhaps having them printed in the programme would help. Or, why not have mobile phones dropped off at the entrance as what was done in previous shows, or have them turned off at the door before being ushered to seats. Simply annoying.
Another breach of theatre etiquette that irritated me when we saw the show was that the show was peppered inconsiderately by numerous applauses. I am all for the audience applauding a wonderful performance but in the middle of the show? You may argue that Cats is so structured that improvisation is allowed at certain segments of the musical such as when the actors interact with the audience.
In these instances, then yes, clap and howl if you wish. Meow. But for you to interrupt the transition of the Jellicle song to the naming of cats at the start of the production, and between the transition towards the end of the musical between Mr. Mistoffelees and Memory, and between Memory and the Heavyside layer, and numerous other instances in between these, is just plain inconsiderate.
There are other people watching the show. People who would want to hear the dialogue or the lyrics. The show is not a private one given only for a single audience. How can you hear what is being said or sang on stage if you applaud at that time? Or, like what one audience did, howled and hooted while standing and blocking the view of the audience at his back when the Rum Tum Tigger segment ended. I agree it was a piece well performed but please be considerate of the other people watching the show. Thank you so much for appreciating the performance but please be a little bit more civil.
The applause has to come in the end. It is different when the actors look into the audience and make eye contact and seeks approval of a performance. When the actor engages the audience, then by all means engage if you wish. Such was what happened at that segment involving Skimbleshanks, and the vocal deulings of Growltiger and Griddlebone during the second half of the production.
No complaints there because it was part of the show. But to the Filipino audience, please learn to bottle your appreciation during the show and give an hour's standing ovation at the end if you believe the company deserves it.
Now, going back to the musical, there were some who were disappointed. You'd hear them as you walked away from your seat. There were those who did not know that Lea Salonga only appeared briefly. You have to realize that Cats is not like Miss Saigon where she was practically on stage every second. There were members of the audience who also expressed their surprise that the show was more dance that a medium showcasing vocal prowess. The Miss Lea Salonga in the production? Ergo expect lots and lots of vocals. Surprise, surprise! Cats showcases so many dance numbers - from contemporary, to tap, to jazz, to ballet, each tailored to the particular Jellicle cat being described. You have to realize that Cats was conceived in the 80's when Music Television (MTV) was at its infancy. It was a revolution at that time to have a musical done in this way. It was very visual.
But apart from these, there were those who, to my surprise, actually dozed off. I have a friend who did doze off when she saw the show in New York. The reason? I agree that there are segments that may lull some to sleep as the energy level dips. Gus the theater cat on part two of the musical comes to mind but aren't there some dips we see in other Andrew Lloyd Weber productions, with the probable exception of Phantom of the Opera, my favorite Andre Lloyd Weber musical.
Same complaints for me? Not really. My issue with the production primarily includes the need to have the cast well conditioned for the physical demands of Cats. Meow. Otherwise, they may lose their nine lives even before the show wraps up later this month. The physical demands of the numerous dance numbers definitely affected the vocals of our dear Jellicle cats. I do not even think that the Australian accent in this case made understanding the dialogue and lyrics a problem.
Purrrfect? Nearly so and hopefully getting near it. Hope they don't use up all their nine lives. There are other cities to go to.