Cats in macao
Updated: 2015-03-02 07:03
By Chen Nan(China Daily)
As Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical returns to China after eight years, Chen Nan speaks with key members of the production.
Paul White, the music director for British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, says that the key to sustaining the musical's popularity is constantly working to refine onstage performances rather than make changes to the original score.
White, who first joined the production as a keyboardist in 1989, has been directing the music for Cats since 1996.
"Sometimes people ask about how to keep the classical show alive and fresh. There's an expression: 'If it ain't broke, why fix it?' The score is perfect and there's no need to update it. The production is the original Cats," White told China Daily during a recent interview at the Venetian Theatre in Macao.
From March 6 to 15, the musical will be staged at the same theater. In 2007, Cats had debuted at another venue in Macao. The musical is known to many Chinese fans of Western musicals since it was first staged in Beijing in 2003. It was adapted into a musical of the same title in a Chinese-language production in 2012.
Having completed a nine-month tour with the musical in South America, White took Cats to Singapore and South Korea in January.
White says that he hadn't watched any live performances of Webber's Cats until he started to work for the production.
"When I watched it for the first time, I was instantly attracted by the music, which was so unusual and not traditional. With many different genres from big band swing, rock 'n' roll to opera, the composer created a cats' world with his 'soundscape', which doesn't belong in any key, like most of the Western music where the tradition comes from."
White, who is from Australia, has studied classical piano since childhood. He worked on jazz, pop and has been involved with major music theater productions in the past 25 years, such as Les Miserables and West Side Story. The musician believes that the music is the "ultimate magic of the show".
Based on English poet T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, Webber's musical premiered in London's West End theater in 1981. The following year, it was staged on Broadway. Since its debut, Cats has been presented in 26 countries and more than 73 million people have seen the show worldwide, according to the production's team manager Makayla Bishop.
She and other members of the production were in Macao ahead of the show.
"The musical overcomes cultural differences and different generations can identify with it. Children can get excited seeing the dancing of people dressed up as cats in costumes and wigs. Older generations can enjoy it because it's nostalgic. They remember hearing those songs, especially Memory, on the radio after it first came out by different artists covering it," Bishop says.
Erin Cornell, who plays a principal character called Grizabella in the musical, says that she received intense training to move like a cat.
Yet the most challenging part for her, even today, is to "keep Grizabella consistently truthful to every performance".
"Grizabella's singing Memory, which is a nostalgic remembrance of her glorious past and a hope to start a new life, is the climax shared by many audiences around the world. Every night, I need to go back to her truth and connect with the audiences," Cornell says.
When the musical was staged at the Great Hall of People in Beijing in 2004, White was there and he recalls even those who weren't familiar with such shows stood up for a long ovation.
"The show is a big part of my life and I have never envisioned that I could be with it for such a long time. Though I have other projects to do, I always come back to Cats," White says. "Sometimes I watch the musical from backstage and sometimes I walk among the audiences. I feel that it's unbelievable to have such a dynamic musical. It's a blessing."
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(China Daily 03/02/2015 page22)