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‘Cats’ singing in Korea as ‘beacon of hope’

Actors rise to the challenge of performing onstage during pandemic

(From left) “Cats” cast members Brad Little, Joanna Ampil and Dan Partridge pose for photos on the stage. (S&Co)
(From left) “Cats” cast members Brad Little, Joanna Ampil and Dan Partridge pose for photos on the stage. (S&Co)

While Broadway remains in a prolonged shutdown and the West End is just now coming back to life after seven months of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the felines of “Cats” continue to sing and dance in South Korea.

Three cast members from the international tour production of “Cats” -- Joanna Ampil, playing Grizabella; Dan Partridge, playing Rum Tum Tugger; and Brad Little, playing Old Deuteronomy -- spoke about being part of the hit Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in its 40th anniversary year at a press event held Tuesday at the Charlotte Theater in eastern Seoul.

The musical opened in Seoul on Sept. 9, shortly after Korea was hit by a second wave of COVID-19. Even the Korean musical scene -- which had been up and running in the earlier phase of the pandemic -- was threatened, as some musicals had to halt their runs.

The three musical theater actors are “lucky,” they asserted, as most of their friends around the world are out of work.

“I wasn’t sure if we will have any audience. I was impressed to see people there,” Ampil said, looking back on opening night. She added that she was grateful to Korea for “keeping the (performing arts) industry alive and being a beacon of hope.”

“It is bittersweet as I know that my colleagues are out of work. The big purpose is raising the flag here,” she said.

“It was exciting (to come to Korea for ‘Cats’) but I felt guilty, too,” Partridge said, referring to the uncertainties affecting London’s West End. “But I am now channeling all the energy and love from friends back home. We are doing it for everyone.”

Adjusting to the rules for the pandemic, cast members wore masks featuring catlike makeup for the opening scene.

“It is amazing that we can do what we do, to wear a mask and show that the production is going by the guidelines but also keeping the art. (The staff) actually paint the exact same makeup that I am wearing underneath the mask,” Little said.

“And maybe (the audience) cannot see the smile that I have underneath the mask, but I wear that smile with great pride in what we are doing. To deal with what we are going through with this pandemic.”

For the musical, some 40 foreign cast members had to undergo a mandatory two-week self-quarantine upon arrival in Korea.

“It was really a special day, the day we came out of quarantine,” Partridge said. “It was a surreal couple of weeks where you cannot step outside of home. It was a nice sunny day and we were excited to meet everyone.”

Little, a celebrated stage actor, was the only member of the cast who did not go through quarantine. He had been in Korea for several months, having tied the knot with a Korean in 2017.

The musical theater actor is recognized for his performance of the phantom in the hit musical “The Phantom of the Opera,” having played the character more than 2,000 times.

“I have had the opportunity to play many different characters. It is what we are trained to do, to open up our creative minds. To play the phantom, that was such an honor,” Little said.

“But it is also so wonderful to show Korea that I can also do something else (by playing Old Deuteronomy). It is not as demanding as the phantom. It is a different energy and personality,” he said.

After the Seoul run, the musical will move to Daegu. Details of the Daegu engagement have not been set yet.

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)
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