Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Memorable, but not purrfect

Perhaps it's because I've never been any good with poetry (both writing and reading it), but I didn't really get Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber's acclaimed musical adaptation of T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Sure, it's mind-bogglingly impressive that ALW took a bunch of poems about cats, put them to music, and created a 2-hour song-and-dance spectacle out of it all. But either all of T.S. Eliot's poetry went clear over my head, or there really isn't a lot of substance in his verses. After all, it's a bunch of poems about cats.

My main issue with Cats was that there doesn't really seem to be much of a plot: the Jellicle Cats (an Eliot term, derived from "dear little cats") gather for the annual Jellicle Ball, where the most senior cat, Old Deuteronomy, makes the "Jellicle Choice", picking a cat to move on to "the Heaviside Layer" (i.e. heaven) and start a new life. Throughout the play, several cats present themselves as candidates for the honor, and the closest thing to a conflict is the shunning of Grizabella, an old "glamour cat" whose coat borders are "torn and stained with sand", making her an outcast from the Jellicle tribe. It's all very simple-- too simple. When I watch a play or movie or even TV show, I'm all about the story-- the more thought-provoking, the better-- and Cats just didn't do it for me.

However, where Cats falls flat in its narrative, it succeeds wildly in its delivery. The elaborate stage design, the gorgeous costumes, the meticulous makeup, the beautiful score and catchy arrangements (LSS guaranteed!)... though there isn't much of a story to be told, it sure is told splendidly. Oddly, Cats struck me as more ballet than musical-- the choreography is amazing, most notably the double windmill pulled off by twin troublemaker cats Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, and the awesome "Conjuring Turn" of the magical Mr. Mistoffelees. Indeed, the graceful, slinky, cat-like movements of the actors-- even when they aren't dancing, so subtle yet so spot-on-- contributes to the realism of the whole show, and helps the audience suspend imagination and believe they are actually watching a crew of cats perform for them. I was riveted to every little thing going on onstage: a lick of a paw, a flick of a tail, a smooth pirouette here, a nimble arabesque there, and stretches and poses that reminded me of the things I do in yoga class.

If anyone were to ask me if they should watch this Manila run of Cats, I'd have to say Lea Salonga alone is worth the price of admission. I confess I've never been a huge fan of Lea (I find her a superb singer but just an okay actress), and when I saw her in Miss Saigon some years back during its Manila run, I was underwhelmed by her performance of the role that shot her to international stardom. In Cats, I don't know if it was because she was the sole Filipino cast member, or because she got to sing the most popular song from the musical, but I really felt that Lea stood out and shone as Grizabella (and that's considering her character had the drabbest costume). I could feel the Pinoy pride swelling in the audience as we applauded her after each of her handful of brief appearances on stage, and the adulation was well-deserved. When she reached the crescendo of her solo in "Memory (Reprise)", I felt like yelling "You go girl!", and the tug on my heartstrings was from both the emotion conveyed by and with the song, and the proud recognition of Filipino talent at its finest. Ms. Salonga truly is a national treasure, and living proof of what can be achieved with dedication to one's craft, a solid work ethic, and a strong sense of identity (Botox not needed!).

One last thing before I wrap up my review. While this has nothing to do with the quality of the play, I just have to get this off my chest: WTH, CCP, get your damn A/C fixed! People in the audience were actually fanning themselves with programs, it was that warm. I can only imagine how oppressive the furry cat costumes and thick makeup were for the actors, and under the hot stage lights to boot. Our country isn't fit to host world-class acting troupes if our venues can't even provide adequate ventilation! Oh, and the occasional fumigation wouldn't hurt either-- mosquitoes were making a buffet out of my legs the whole night.

Cats is a classic for good reason, but I wouldn't say it's ALW's best work, and I certainly don't think it's "the greatest musical of all time" as the posters tout it. But it is still excellent entertainment, and the chance to watch Lea Salonga perform elevates the experience to enthrallment.


At Thursday, August 12, 2010, Blogger sugeina said...

hey, sillingtonhouse. it's been a while since i visited your blog... i've forgotten how good your reviews were. i agree with this completely, except for the a/c and mosquito part... it was fine in our seats. we were a bit far (hard to see the details, but good view of the whole stage) but the quality of lea's voice gave me goosebumps nevertheless.

btw, can you point me to your blog entry on that pal promo ticketing office nightmare? (we have a report on pal service and we're taking inputs wherever we can find them heheh).

At Friday, August 13, 2010, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Hey, good to know you're still reading my blog. My readership has dropped dramatically since the advent of Facebook. Then again, I haven't exactly been writing a lot this past year either.

I never blogged about my ordeal at the PAL ticketing office. I think I might have just tweeted about it? I did find a VERY old post from 2005 about a previous experience at the PAL ticketing office:


Goes to show I didn't learn my lesson. Still went back, didn't I? Stupid promo fares. :p


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