‘Cats’ run amok, meowing in Korean

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‘Cats’ run amok, meowing in Korean


“Cats,” the second-longest-running musical on Broadway, is transporting its Jellicle cats and Andrew Lloyd Webber-composed numbers - translated into Korean - to the Charlotte Theater in Jamsil, southeastern Seoul, through Dec. 31. Provided by Seol & Company

Stray cats may never be looked at with distaste again on Korean streets as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s eponymous musical returns to celebrate its 30th anniversary with performances at the Charlotte Theater in Seoul.

According to Hong Ji-min, one of three Korean actresses playing the role of glamorpuss Grizabella, the performers slowly warmed to cats’ strange ways after studying them in preparation for the musical, which ranks as the second-longest-running show on Broadway and has also been met with purrs of delight by local audiences.

“When they have an itch, cats roll their feet in towards their body and scratch repeatedly very fast,” she said. “Then they put their foot back down very slowly .?.?. it looks kind of arrogant, but actually its one of the charms cats have.”

The musical is based on the superstitious belief that cats have nine lives and stresses the importance of personal identity through the simple ownership of names. One of the first numbers sung by the Jellicle tribe is “The Naming of Cats,” accompanied by eye-catching magic tricks by Mr. Mistoffelees and memorable theatrics by Jennyanydots, an old Gumbie cat.

But narrative, plot and thematic do not even get close to explaining the enduring popularity of “Cats.” This largely boils down to its addictive songs - performed here in Korean, which takes some acclimation - and the playful, mischievous nature of its cast and director.

The Jellicle cats send ripples of shock, followed by nervous giggles, through the audience when they pop out unexpectedly from the wings and then vanish again just as suddenly, mimicking their real-life avatars.

Perhaps the award for most shocking stage move should go to the Rum Tum Tugger, an especially flirtatious and spontaneous character adored by all the female felines in this imaginary on-stage world. After espousing his anti-establishment views about how he hates to follow the rules, he pierces the mise-en-scene by springing off stage and grabbing the hands of a female spectator in the front row and engaging her in a dance.

Based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” Webber’s “Cats” opened in London’s West End in 1981 and premiered on Broadway the following year. It picked up the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1983 and was first performed in Korea in 1994, leading to sold-out shows and cumulative ticket sales in the country above one million.

No doubt part of its universal appeal, including in Korea, is the warmth that lies at its core.

“Love, forgiveness and harmony are all included in the musical,” said Insooni, a well-known singer who is also playing the role of Grizabella, at a recent press conference.

“Since the scenes move fast ... I think it would help people in getting all the messages if they come to the theater after reading the contents of the musical.

*“Cats” is running through Dec. 31 at the Charlotte Theater in Jamsil, Seoul, at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays; and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays and bank holidays. Tickets cost from 50,000 won to 120,000 won. The theater is near Jamsil Station on line No. 2, exit 3. For more information, call 1577-3363, or log onto www.musicalcats.co.kr.

By Lee Sun-min [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]
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