'Cats' ready to get its claws into Shanghai

The award-winning musical phenomenon is back in town with a fresh-new set.
Ti Gong

The award-winning musical phenomenon “Cats” is back in town with a fresh-new set and ready to get its claws into Shanghai. 

Originally composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Cats” has gone on to be one of the world’s most successful musicals since it first premiered in London’s West End in 1981. 

Awarded the best musical at both the Olivier and Tony awards, “Cats” has visited more than 300 cities, in 15 languages and been seen by more than 81 million people. The production first visited Shanghai in 2003 and was adapted into a Chinese version in 2012. 

The latest version has been shortened to help tell the story better according to Dane Quixall, the resident director. 

Piles of giant soda cans, enormous chocolate boxes and huge broken bats immediately hit the audience, as the curtain draws on the set, while Jellicle cats gather for their annual “Jellicle choice.”

The creative team wanted the world of cats to be closer to the audience, without musicians in the middle, so the live orchestra is set at the back. The stage is also set higher to help the audience’s viewing pleasure while the props are made bigger to make the performers look smaller on stage, like cats. 

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More than 250 costumes and 30 wigs are used in the performance, and one of the wool-made costumes for Gus weighs as much as 14 kilograms.

It usually takes each performer an hour to get dressed and get a complete makeover before the show. But, while on set, performers have 15 seconds to change costumes in between scenes in the change zone. There have been some costume changes to reflect the current times, as the original designs from 1981 are now a little dated.

After reaching Shanghai, a two-hour “cats’ time” was set in the theater to help the performers charge their “cat energy.” In the two hours, all the performers moved and played as cats without any “humans” around.

Quixall revealed that the performers were never told how to play their roles in detail, while the show’s director Trevor Nunn gave all the characters three words to describe their role. 

“For example, I always look at Grizabella as Amy Winehouse or Whitney Houston, someone who just does not have the best life and struggles. That’s my interpretation, but other performers may do it in a different way,” said Quixall.

Joanna Ampil, who plays Grizabella, has starred musicals such as “Miss Saigon,” “Les Miserables” and “Rent.” Apart from training herself move like a cat, she intentionally isolates herself from the others even at break time, so as to create the “lonely” atmosphere.

Performance details

Date: Through June 30, 2pm, 7:30pm
Tickets: 80-1080 yuan
Tel: 6472-9000, 6472-6000
Venue: SAIC Shanghai Culture Square
Address: 597 Fuxing Rd M.

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