Cats good, not purr-fect

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2013-1-15 19:38:01


Grizabella's ballad remains a show-stopper in any language. Photo: Courtesy of United Asia Live Entertainment
Grizabella's ballad remains a show-stopper in any language. Photo: Courtesy of United Asia Live Entertainment

The stage went dark at the Century Theatre as the show started. The buzz in the crowd quickly quieted down. Onstage, a deserted car trunk, a wall with a closed window and a few disposed tires stood silhouetted against a red moon on the backdrop.

As the music started playing, a cat poked its head out from behind the car, slowly stood up and started singing - in Chinese.

After touring cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Wuhan and Chongqing, the Chinese version of the musical Cats finally debuted in Beijing on December 21 and will continue through February 3.

This tour is the first time Cats has been performed in Chinese and it's obvious much work has been done to add a Beijing flavor to the show. 

The lyrics in the English version are largely based on T.S. Elliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and have a natural, poetic flow. Translated in a skillful way and not word-for-word, the Chinese lyrics stay truthful to the original content and make it easier for Chinese audiences to understand.

Expressions specific to Beijing have been added to spice up the show, such as "wode maya," meaning "oh my," and "zaijianle ninna," meaning "see you later," elevating the show beyond just a translation of the English version.

The cat performers have a lot of interaction with the audience, sometimes even improvised, which is also something watching a DVD of the English Cats can't bring. While Rum Tum Tugger, the rock'n'roll cat, was singing his signature song, he jumped down from the stage and sang to a woman sitting in the front row, fitting with the cat's outrageous and outgoing character. Also, during intermission, the cats mingled with the crowd, keeping the audience interested and engaged.

In terms of technical production values, the theater does an impeccable job. While the cast sings, the lyrics in Chinese are shown on two screens at either side of the stage. There are many secret tunnels and doors onstage, hidden in the darkness, from which the cats emerge in the middle of the performance, seemingly out of nowhere, creating a fantastic surprise factor.

Along with the Putonghua, costumes and details of the musical, the Beijing production of Cats came with a certifiably Beijing audience.

Many in the audience in the front rows at the performance Metro Beijing attended brought their children, who wondered aloud at what the "furry animals" on stage were in their innocent voices - not terribly loudly, but just loudly enough to be clearly heard. The parents, instead of shushing the kids, whispered back replies, just loudly enough for both nearby audience members and the kiddies to hear. Such attention given to educating the young about musicals while in the midst of attending the musical is simply, well, remarkable.

The audience behaved well during the performance, by Beijing standards. When one audience member wanted to make a phone call, something clearly forbidden by a pre-performance announcement, he was thoughtful enough to speak only while the characters sang, so the music very nearly covered up the sound of his voice and didn't disturb the people around him quite so much.

All in all, the Chinese Cats is a remarkable production, as demonstrated by the thunderous applause during the lengthy curtain call and the shows selling out days beforehand.

Whether or not audiences are familiar with the English version, a viewing of Cats at the Century Theatre should be appreciated, perhaps a little more than Beijing audiences have so far.

Where: No. 40 Liangmaqiao Lu, Chaoyang district

When: Until February 3

Tickets: 180-880 yuan

Contact: 6466-4805

Posted in: Music, Metro Beijing

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