Cats the Musical

Source: Kendelia Videos on YouTube

Cats the Musical began playing at the Sands Theatre in Marina Bay Sands Singapore on 17 December and its run will end on 5 January 2020. This is the fourth time Cats is playing in Singapore.

The musical first played in 1993 at the Kallang Theatre and it returned in 2009 at the Esplanade Theatre. Its third run in 2015 was also performed at the Sands Theatre in Marina Bay Sands. The 2019/2020 musical is part of the International Tour that will cover China, the Philippines (Manila) and Singapore.

The first time I watched Cats the musical in Singapore was exactly a decade ago in 2009. The opening performance took place on 10 April 2009. It was an interesting event as it included a backstage tour prior to the performance and a then four-year-old child then had the privilege to attend her very first musical, all thanks to Longines as the brand was the official sponsor of Cats.

Speaking of time, did you know:
i. An actor takes an average of 60 minutes to apply make-up;
ii. In a week, 45 jazz shoes are used up;
iii. It takes 35 hours to knot a cat’s wig;
iv. More than 100 litres of water are drunk backstage each week; and
v. 50kg of ice is used for ice baths for the actors at end of each week.

Cats the Musical, an Andrew Lloyd Weber classic, is playing in Singapore for the fourth time at Sands Theatre in Marina Bay Sands from 17 December 2019 to 5 January 2020. Above: Rum Tum Tugger taking centrestage. Photo: CATS Tour 2019 Photography by Alessandro Pinna.

Cats is the musical adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”. Born in America, Thomas Stearns Eliot (T.S. Eliot) is regarded as one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century.

T.S. Eliot (1888 to 1965) moved to England in 1914 and became a British subject in 1927. His “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” was published in October 1939 and it is a collection of poems on feline psychology and sociology.

Eighty years on (1939 to 2019), “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” lives on through Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical “Cats” that first made its debut in 1981 at the West End of London. The Broadway musical was staged a year later in 1982.

Since then, Cats the musical has played in more than 30 countries, has been translated into 15 languages and was seen by more than 81 million people worldwide.

There is practically no dialogue in this musical. Therefore, to fully take in this musical, it is best to understand its setting that takes place in a junkyard and on the special night for the felines that is known as the Jellicle Ball.

What is a Jellicle? Well, the Jellicle is a fictional family of cats, described as scruffy and being nocturnal in nature. Many names of the cats come from the Eliot’s poems while others have been created for the musical.

For example, did you know that Grizabella, one of the main characters in the musical, isn’t in the published book of poems by Eliot? Was Grizabella specially created for the musical? Is Grizabella the creation of someone other than Eliot?

Well, yes and no. Yes, Grizabella was added as one of the characters for the musical and no, she was not “created” by others. Eliot had actually written an unpublished poem titled: “Grizabella the Glamour Cat” and Eliot’s widow, Valerie, gave it to Andrew Llyod Weber. In the musical, Grizabella is an old cat and is rejected by the other cats for seeking a life outside. She hopes to return and receive the tribe’s acceptance.

The Jellicle Ball is presided over by Old Deuteronomy, their kind and wise leader who will choose one cat that will make the journey to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn into a new Jellicle cat.

The Heaviside Layer isn’t fiction. Also known as the Kennelly-Heaviside layer, it is a region of the ionosphere between 90 and 145km (50 and 90 miles) above ground that reflects radio waves of medium length.

The ionosphere is the outer region of Earth’s atmosphere where there is a high concentration of free electrons. The Heaviside Layer is “Heaven” in the musical. The stage is therefore set to fully understand and appreciate this musical. Through song and dance at the Jellicle Ball, different cats will present themselves as Heaviside Layer contenders.

In addition to Old Deuteronomy and Grizabella, other key characters of the musical include Rum Tum Tugger, Mr Mistoffelees (the cat with magical powers), Macavity, Bustopher Jones (the “St James’ street cat), Jennyanydots, Victoria (the cat in white), Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (the energetic and cheeky duo), Skimbleshanks (the cat “aboard the British West Coast Main Line train”), Bombalurina, Tantomile and Munkustrap (the son of Old Deuteronomy, the leader and protector of the Jellicle cats).

Old Deuteronomy and Grizabella. Grizabella sings the most impactful song Memory in this musical production.Images: CATS Tour 2019 Photography by Alessandro Pinna.

Memorable highlights include the solo performance by Mr Mistoffelees who makes 22 conjuring turns. Memorable musical tracks include The Rum Tum Tugger, Macavity – The Mystery Cat, Mr Mistoffelees and Memory.

I can still hear kids, including the now fourteen-year-old (who had attended the 2009 musical) and a ten-year-old watching it for the first time, humming the tune of Mr Mistoffelees in my ears. I understand one of the most memorable performances for this young teenager is the act when the cats build a “train” in the junkyard and sang “Skimbleshanks”.

By far, the most powerful and emotional song is sung by Grizabella, the “has been” or former glamour cat, and it is none other than “Memory”. This is a song many, especially the older generation, will be familiar with. It is a song that has been sung by Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow Johnny Mathis and Elaine Page, among others. Streisand’s rendition of Memory is by far, a strong favourite.

Overall, it was worth the visit to watch this classic musical ten years on. On a personal level, the 2009 musical somehow seemed more energetic and powerful than the 2019 version. No matter, what’s interesting was how the young thoroughly enjoyed the Cats musical and that’s what mattered most.