Hello kitties!

By Hu Bei Source:Global Times Published: 2012-8-15 18:25:03

In 2003 and 2004, the UK's Really Useful Group (RUG) led by Andrew Lloyd Webber, brought the composer's hit musical Cats to China for the first time. And even against the background of the SARS epidemic in China, the touring show managed to break several box-office records.

"I can still remember how magnificent the production was," Liu Chun, who saw the musical in Beijing, told the Global Times. Liu watched the musical in the expansive surroundings of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing which was filled to its 6,000 capacity on the night. He had previously only seen Cats on DVD.

Stage photos from the Chinese production of Cats Photos: Courtesy of United Asia Live Entertainment
Stage photos from the Chinese production of Cats Photos: Courtesy of United Asia Live Entertainment

Brilliant performance

Liu recalled that he was sat at very back of the auditorium and that the "cats" were merely dots in the distance. He also couldn't understand what they were singing about. "However, in spite of all that, the whole visual effect it produced made it one of the most brilliant performances I had ever seen."

Fast forward eight years and Liu is now the stage director of the Chinese-language production of Cats, a role he took on in November 2011.

This was when United Asia Live Entertainment (UALE), a Chinese entertainment industry company based in Shanghai, signed copyright contracts with RUG and launched the first China production of Cats. The company was also responsible for producing the Chinese version of Mamma Mia last year, the first Western musical to be adapted into Chinese with a homegrown professional cast.

Throughout the whole rehearsal process, the Chinese cast and crew have worked alongside a team from RUG which has offered all-round direction and guidance.  

Friday will see the premiere of the Chinese version of Cats at the Shanghai Grand Theater. And after 62 performances, lasting until October 9, the production will move onto Xi'an, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Beijing where it will finish in February 2013. 

The cast of Cats took time out to stage several, free preview performances at the Shanghai Daning Theater in Zhabei district last week. The cast and crew were looking for useful feedback from audiences and hoping to improve certain details, even at this last stage of the rehearsal process.

The story opens in a garbage dump with a full moon hanging in the night sky. Among the discarded "props" are a Beijing car license plate (it will become a Shanghai plate during its run here), an old-fashioned mop and bucket, and an old mooncake box.

The show includes some traditional Chinese acrobatics and martial arts. From time to time, some of the "cats" will unexpectedly pop up among audience members, and they also occasionally speak Shanghainese.

Liu told the Global Times: "Every detailed thing, including all Chinese elements added into the performance, are under RUG's strict artistic and technical control and must be approved by them."

Stage photos from the Chinese production of Cats Photos: Courtesy of United Asia Live Entertainment
Stage photos from the Chinese production of Cats Photos: Courtesy of United Asia Live Entertainment

Teething problems

However, the production team admitted that there were still teething problems, particularly with audiences being able to hear what was being said on stage during the previews.    

Liu added that the translation of the lyrics into Chinese was the most difficult part of the whole process. "According to the demands of RUG, all the Chinese lyrics had to be accurately translated back into English before being approved. Even now, we are still polishing some of the words and deliberating with the RUG team. However, the original lyrics have a strong 'stream of consciousness' style and the poems of T.S. Eliot (Cats is based on a work by the American-born writer) are full of classical allusions which are not even easily understood by many Western audience members," Liu said.

Liu mentioned that they had to paraphrase certain lyrics which are awkward to sing in Chinese. To get around this, they transformed them into Chinese four-character idioms.

Tian Yuan, the CEO of UALE also told the Global Times that producers invited professional voice coaches to improve the articulation of the singers.

"When Webber first declared that he would adapt Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats into a musical, many people strongly objected to the idea," said Tian. "And here in China we have had to battle with the belief that Chinese people simply couldn't produce a world-class musical. There have been 14 versions of Cats in different languages - so why not a Chinese production?"

Date: August 17 to 31, September 1 to 13, 7:15 pm, August 18 to 19, 25 to 26, September 1 to 2, 8 to 9, 2 pm

Venue: Shanghai Grand Theater


Address: 300 People's Avenue


Tickets: 80 to 880 yuan

Call 400-880-6672 for details

Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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