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From what gets cut to how much CGI will be used, the performers in the touring musical – in Toronto until January 5 – are hoping for film purr-fection
Everyone’s going to the movies this holiday season, including the cast of the Mirvish musical Cats.
Between their eight-shows-a-week schedule at the Princess of Wales Theatre, the performers might check out Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, Bombshell, Little Women or Uncut Gems but fur would literally fly if they missed Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of the famous Andrew Lloyd Webber musical they’ve come to know so intimately.
“Someone’s arranging for all of us to see it,” explains Dan Hoy, who plays the musical’s narrator, Munkustrap, in the national tour, which runs here until January 5.
What will they be looking for? This is, after all, one of the most divisive shows in musical history – beloved by many, considered a joke by others. I saw this production last week, and while I hated it as a child (where’s the story? I remember thinking), as an adult I embraced its sheer, unstoppable entertainment value.
“I’m really interested in what will get cut,” says Hoy. “We already know that the number Beautiful Ghosts – the Taylor Swift/Webber collaboration – has been added, so some things will end up gone. There are different rhythms without an intermission.”
Rose Iannaccone, who plays the nimble, mischievous Rumpleteazer, wants to see how the added dialogue – the stage show is completely sung through – will affect and move forward the story. She’s also pumped to see how special effects and “crazy technical elements” enhance the tale.
Coincidentally, Andy Blankenbuehler, who was brought in to create dance for the revival inspired by the original choreographer Gillian Lynne, also choreographed the film. Hoy hopes dance-heavy scenes like the Invitation to the Jellicle Ball, work successfully on the big screen.
“It would be very easy to make it frenetic, fast-paced and CGI heavy,” he says. “This is a moment where dance tells the story. And that could be a challenge. On the other hand, numbers like [power ballad] Memory and the Gus the Theatre Cat sequence tell one person’s journey through life.”
His fellow felines have their own opinions.
“I think the Jellicle Ball could be stunning – where you might see movie magic at its best,” says Adam Richardson, who’s part of the Cats chorus and understudies several roles. “A song like Memory, which is small and tender, could be lost.”
Giovanni DiGabriele, who plays Skimbleshanks, agrees.
“Memory is a breathtaking moment. In the live musical, the actor playing Grizabella has the audience in her hands. The simple moment of all of us onstage watching her sing is so powerful. I just hope that same feeling comes across onscreen.”
Regardless of how the film works – and let’s not forget the internet storm that occurred after the creepy teaser trailer dropped earlier this year – generations of subsequent fans will likely know about Cats because of the film.
That tends to happen with movies. They reach more people than stage plays ever could.
Iannaccone says classics like Singin’ In The Rain and White Christmas gave her the itch to start performing. Actor Mariah Reives, who plays Cassandra, grew up on Disney’s animated musicals like The Lion King, and they got her to dance.
“Hearing those songs made me want to move, not sing,” laughs Reives. “Since then, I’ve seen the shows based on the movies, and they inspired me to go into theatre. It’s amazing how influential musical theatre can be.”
When the Les Misérables film – also directed by Hooper – premiered in 2012, there was lots of buzz about the actors singing their songs live during filming. Theatre folks scoffed, explaining that, ahem, they sang live at every performance.
“Live music theatre is so special because of that,” says Reives. “With a movie, you see the best take, or snippets from different takes. I thought it was great that [the Les Mis actors] were singing live.”
When you pre-record a song and lipsynch it later, says Hoy, it’s going to look and sound clean and polished.
“But there’s something about acting through a song, about conveying emotion when you’re actually in the world of this scene, that Les Mis did very well. Anne Hathaway’s I Dreamed A Dream wouldn’t have had the same emotional impact if it had been pre-recorded and pretty. I hope that’s the direction movie musicals continue to go in.”
Meanwhile, thousands of fans cheer the live show every night – and will continue to do so, whether prompted by its legendary decades-long history or the new movie.
Last week, even Céline Dion dropped by, posed for pictures (she did her own cat impression) and talked to the cast and crew afterward for more than 10 minutes.
“She said it wasn’t really a story about cats,” explains Hoy. “It was a story about life.”
And who can argue with Queen Céline?