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Chinese 'Cats'

(Global Times)

09:06, May 16, 2012

(Global Times Photo)

Cats performance

Recruiting for the Chinese rendition of the musical Cats came to an end last week, with most of the 30-plus cast members finalized.

Director/dance director Jo-Anne Robinson and music director Fiz Shapur have worked on the musical for over 30 years and will cooperate with the Chinese crew for this domestic production.

United Asia Live Entertainment, who produced the popular Chinese version of musical Mamma Mia in 2011, is behind the domestic version of Cats. The play has been translated in over a dozen languages, including English, Germany, Japanese, Korean, and more.

British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats is based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, a collection of whimsical poems by T. S. Eliot. Cats is one of the world's top four musicals, alongside The Phantom of Opera, Miss Saigon, and Les Miserables.

Since its debut in London's West End at the New London Theatre in 1981, the musical has been staged in 26 countries for about 32 years. It has won numerous awards, including both the Laurence Olivier Award and the Tony Award for Best Musical. Cats was adapted into a made-for-television film in 1998.

Feline roles

Compared to other musicals that emphasize singing skills, Cats is equally heavy on dancing. Performers need to master different forms of dance, including ballet and tap, and they must carry a strong stage presence.

Recruiting for the musical began as early as last October, with more than 600 applicants from China, Singapore, Japan, and the US. Some applicants were recommended by Cameron Mackintosh, producer of musical Les Miserables.

A number of Chinese musical talents working abroad came back for the recruiting, like those working in Japan. The Japanese rendition of Cats staged by Shiki Theatre Company has been performed for years, though few people are aware that many of these Japanese cats are actually Chinese performers.

As the domestic version is underway, many actors and actresses abroad are eager to sing in their mother tongue and make their way back to their home country.

The role of Grizabella, or Glamour Cat, was given to Liu Yang, one of the few applicants selected almost immediately. Liu won over judges with her mesmerizing voice, when performing "Memory," arguably the most recognized song of the musical.

Robinson said that he knew Liu was perfect for Grizabella the second she began singing. There are strict demands placed on Glamour Cat's performance, as the character is a lonely, sad figure, nostalgic for the past. Though Robinson does not understand Chinese, he appreciated Liu's emotional performance.

Ding Zhenying, a graduate of Shanghai Conservatory of Music, was cast as Demeter, a skittish female cat.

Slim and tan, Ding fits the description of Demeter. She too was selected quickly - within 30 minutes.

Lost in translation

The production is still underway, with many aspects in need of tweaking. Xinmin Evening News reported last Thursday that some parts of the Chinese version of "Memory" fixated too much on rhythmic aspects, overlooking the emotional side. As the English lyrics of Cats are rooted in Eliot's poem, the translation not only needs to convey literal meanings but poetic feelings.

Those working on the translations must be well-versed in Chinese and English. When all the lyrics have been translated, experts will look over them carefully.

The original production team of Cats will cooperate in the making of the Chinese adaptation. Director Robinson said that while both he and Shapur were impressed by the work ethic of Chinese actors and actress, they hope the leads will study the individual characters.

Robinson told a reporter from Chinanews.com that many applicants were diligent in copying the classic 1998 version of Cats, but this is not the ideal method. Each version is a new creation, said Shapur, who insists that applicants come to their own understandings.

Pre-sale tickets of the domestic version began on March 8. So far about 5,000 tickets have been sold. The premier of Cats will be held at Shanghai Grand Theater in August, with tickets going up for sale on May 16.

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