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[Herald Review] Minor touch-ups, familiar formula make for major fun in 'Cats'

Asia tour of one of the longest-running Broadway musicals kicks off in Seoul

If you happen to walk around central Seoul late in the evening and come across seemingly-possessed chants of “Jellicles do and Jellicles can,” keep calm and carry on because the odds are that there are some people who had just caught the feline fever from the ever-infectious “Cats.”
A scene from “Cats” (Clip Service)
A scene from “Cats” (Clip Service)

One of the most beloved foreign-based musicals in the country opened last Tuesday at Haeoreum Theater of the National Theater of Korea to kick off the musical’s Asia tour for this year. 
Vanity, felinity, flamboyancy bordering on insanity fills the revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber piece that has by now been enshrined in the minds of musical lovers as legend.
A scene from “Cats” (Clip Service)
A scene from “Cats” (Clip Service)

The English-touring production of the show has returned to Korea after its successful run three years ago, this time with a new cast and minor tweaks that “megamusical fans” would able to catch, according to cast member Brad Little.

Little plays the Old Deuteronomy -- the ancient and wise leader of the Jellicle Cats gang that prowls and prances around the grungy old London junkyard. 

A scene from “Cats” (Clip Service)
A scene from “Cats” (Clip Service)

It is the occupants of the battered and shabby streets that has undergone the touch-ups, through make-up and costumes. Grizzled face of once-beautiful Grizabella looks less aged but more scarred. Playful magician of “Mr. Mistoffelees” is a lot more vocal then in the original version.

The changes also apply in the cats’ choreography.

What hasn’t changed is what made the “Cats” an unorthodox musical that keeps pricking the audience in an unexpected, but pleasant way. 

A scene from “Cats” (Clip Service)
A scene from “Cats” (Clip Service)

The boundary between the stage and the audience disappears when the Jellicle cats starts roaming around the audience during the enchanting opening number of “Jellicle Songs For Jellicle Cats.” Rock star-like Rum Tum Tugger -- of whom Will Richardson captured his vivacious personality -- brings out a lucky fan from the audience for an impromptu dance-off, and the intermission seamlessly sewn in with the beginning of Act 2 as the “cats” curiously wanders off between the fans.

After all, these are precisely what had made the originally 1981-produced show once hold the title longest-running Broadway musical in history with 7,485 performances -- a record now held by Lloyd Webber’s other masterpiece “The Phantom of the Opera.”

It is not just the earworms that make up the show. Laura Emmet’s Grizabella wobbles onto the stage after all the cats have exited and starts reminiscing her past glories through “Memory.”

The fan-favorite number -- also the best known score of “Cats” in Korea -- is reprised several times as the show heads toward the finale in the second act. Audience are kept on their feet, as Jellicles venture on in the night of “Jellicle choice.”

Produced by Cameron Mackintosh, and based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, and produced by Cameron Mackintosh, the show has been presented in over 30 countries in 15 languages since its world premiere at the New London Theater in 1981. It has been seen by over 73 million people worldwide, and has won best musical at both the Laurence Olivier Awards and Tonys.

“Cats” runs until Sept. 10 in Seoul, and the tickets range from 60,000 won to 150,000 won.

Performances will be held at 8 p.m. on Weekdays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. The show lasts for two hours and 40 minutes, including the intermission.

By Yoon Min-sik (