Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cats in Manila

I AM MORE OF A MUSIC ENTHUSIAST and do not consider myself much of a film collector as much as I am of audio titles and books. I do own a few film titles, the ratio probably being 1 film/video for every 25 audio discs, a few of these musical and film soundtracks.

Embarrassing as it may sound, one of the first original videos I ever bought was when the short-lived Blockbuster video store on Matalino Street near our old dojo made the double-disc, 2-hour Cats, The Musical VCD available, something I considered quite pricey at the time, but well worth the purchase. (The video, directed by David Mallet, was shot "over 18 days" at the Adelphi Theatre in London's West End; the play, accompanied by a 70-piece orchestra.)

By its very genre, Cats, being a musical, fulfilled me both aurally and visually and fit right into my other collection of soundtracks and videos.

VCD, book and Mouser captured on Moleskine

When Cats, The Musical opened in Broadway in the early 80s, the buzz surrounding it reached Manila and developed somewhat of a cult following among some of my peers in college who were in theater. When the production was given due recognition after winning both the Laurence Olivier (1981) and Tony (1983) Awards for Best Musical, we had spent many a downtime chats about mounting our own version of it at some point (something, I am sure, we shared with several other campus theater groups at the time and with many other theater companies since Cats, The Musical came into being). We had no idea what the costs were like and we didn't care. Just thinking of who was cast and who were perfect for certain roles from among friends and familiar theater names stirred our imagination no end.

Owing to reviews of the musical I had read at some point back in college and listening to a friend's original cast recording of the Broadway soundtrack on CD (Grammy-Best Musical Show Album/1984), and the video I purchased much later, I did dream of being able to actually watch it live either in Broadway or West End. It was one of those "must do" activities I would have done as a visitor had I the chance to go to either of those places.

Original Cats West End window card (Dewynters/1981)
And the poster, yes! The first time I saw a reproduction of its poster in a magazine, I was completely gripped by the minimalist layout, and, in particular, the cat's eyes with dancers' silhouettes as pupils. Designed in 1981 by Dewynters, now First Artist Corporation PLC which also did Les Miserable, Phantom of the Opera and many other West End production advertising, the poster imagery was so strong that it remains fresh and timeless even to this day and is, no doubt, one of the most iconic visual images of the 20th century.

T.S. Eliot and cats
In my book-hunting escapades in the early 90s, I came across a copy of T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats [Illustrated Edition-Harvest/HBJ Books, 1982], the book on which the musical was based. Profusely illustrated by the great Edward Gorey [1], it was a real treat to have the sole copy priced at P2.50.

I love T.S. Eliot's play of words and imagination, something which, if one were unfamiliar, may seem wild but are actually accurate, sometimes dark, but over-all humane and humanistic representations of feline characteristics; also, of the funny descriptions of perceived cat inter-actions. The book was an even better read with the pen-and-ink drawings of the very imaginative Edward Gorey.

Needless to say, T.S. Eliot, since being introduced through a book from the high school library, is a favorite, one of the few poets I actually read. Like many excellent works of literature, my appreciation of his works deepened over time and was made even more special when a very good friend wrote The Hollow Men on a poster she gave me as a gift years ago. The Hollow Men still stands as one of my favorite pieces.

It also happens that we have lived with generations of feline companions almost all our lives. Each of our cats had a back story (the ones we have still do), a name they respond to, and a distinct identity—we have a mental family tree of all our cats, by the way—that my sister and I have learned   "cat psychology" (we coined that for fun) to explain certain cat behaviors and identities to friends and acquaintances who were constantly curious about them.

We did have our Rum Tum Tigers, Our Grizabellas (Derby, JaJa, Mysteriously Mystifying Ms. T, and her kit, Ms. M), our Bustopher Joneses and our Deuteronomys, Black Cat and George. Yes, our cats were all well represented in T.S. Eliot's feline world.

But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name

~ The Naming of Cats, T.S. Eliot

Near Impossible
Cats, The Musical sadly ended its run at the turn of this century—it closed in Broadway in 2000 after 18 years; London in 2002 after 21—dashing my hope of ever seeing it live in either of those venues and as they were originally staged.

Because of the cost of mounting a production like Cats, The Musical, a major, professional staging in the Philippines as Webber and Mackintosh had intended it was near impossible at that time, or since. It's been quoted that Andrew Lloyd Weber's Really Useful Group spent $5M to mount the Broadway production in 1982.

(If I recall correctly, the costliest Philippine musical production ever staged locally was S.K. Productions' Rama at Sita in 1999 at the UP Diliman Theater. It was said S.K. Productions' generosity resulted in spending for necessary upgrades of many of the venue's facilities for the first time since its construction, i.e. the orchestra pit, hydraulic lift and dressing rooms, among others.)

Anyhow, of all the re-staged hit plays and musicals in Broadway or West End that were ever mounted in full in the Philippines, it was Cats that was missing big time.

Cats in Manila: at last
Fast forward to 2010 and Manila will finally be able to experience Cats (Now and Forever)-The Musical with no less than Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awardee Lea Salonga as Grizabella (done originally by the great Elaine Paige/London and Betty Buckley/Broadway).
[Watch Elaine Paige's rendition of the song "Memory" here and about the character here (starting at 1:17).]

Lea Salonga sings Memory at the Cats (Now and Forever) launch, Nov09
[courtesy of Cats in Manila]
First announced in November 2009, Cats (Now and Forever)-The Musical, Manila will start its limited run on 24 July 2010 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). And since Cats (Now and Forever) is basically an ensemble production, Lea will be supported by an international cast, notably theater actors from the UK and Australia, as well as select Filipino thespians. I didn't catch what orchestra will be accompanying the production, though, or who the other cast members will be.

(inclusive of 3% service charge)
SAT (3:00 pm) / SUN (2:30 pm)
PhP 7,210/ 5,150/ 3,605/ 2,060/ 1,030
TUE (8:00 pm) / WED (8:00 pm)
THU (8:00PM) / SUN (7:30PM)
PhP 6,180/ 4,635/ 3,090/ 1,545/ 772.50
FRI (8:00 pm) / SAT (8:00 pm)
PhP 7,210/ 5,150/ 3,605/ 2,060/ 1,030

The last time I saw Lea on stage was in Miss Saigon also at the CCP in 2000—yes, that long ago yet. Before that, I caught Grease at the UP Theater (1994) in which she played "Sandy". I remember her playing that role perfectly despite the venue being ill-equipped acoustically that, on the night I saw it, the rain outside almost upstaged the audio in the theater several times.

In recent years, I'd caught her briefly and occasionally on TV in noontime variety shows or televised specials.

It is, therefore, interesting to watch Lea on stage again, definitely more mature this time, and in the footsteps of legends. Quite a contrast to when she played "Kim" as a teenager, the role which won for her the Tony and other awards and set the standard by which all other "Kim"s are expected to uphold in the succeeding runs of Miss Saigon.

And to see the costumes, the junkyard set, the lighting, music and choreography—I am looking forward to seeing all those. Finally, in Manila. At last.

  • Cats (Now and Forever) the Musical will run at the CCP Main Theater until 15 August, 2010.
  • Presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions Ltd. and David Atkins Enterprises
  • Produced by Citi in association with The Really Useful Group.
  • More details can be read at its Facebook page and at its official Tumblr blog.
  • Tickets at Ticketworld, and from its outletsNBS Shangri-La Plaza, Market Market Extension, North Edsa, Harrison Plaza, Glorietta 5 / Robinsons Department Stores / Ayala Malls Greenbelt 1, Glorietta 5, TriNoma 4th Floor /  CCP Box Office / Music Museum, Teatrino Promenade (Greenhills) / GRAND SQUARE STADIUM, Sta. Rosa, Laguna / TicketWorld Head, Suite 701, V. Madrigal Bldg. 6793 Ayala Ave., 1226 Makati City Telephone: 891-9999 TicketWorld Website  
  • Online purchase using your VISA, JCB or Master Card credit cards.


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