A timeless musical and a luscious ballet classic

January 19, 2018 17:33
John Brannoch plays the role of Rum Tum Tugger in "Cats". Photo: Alessandro Pinna

“Cats”, one of the most famous musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber, was revived in Hong Kong last week after more than a decade. I first saw “Cats” in the early 1980s in London not long after its 1981 premiere. After more than three decades, this musical is still entrancing and hasn’t lost its magic.

Hong Kong APA Lyric Theatre’s stage, however, seems quite cramped for this show. Fortunately, some members of the cast move around in the stalls area and can spread out at times. Based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the show is alive with feline characters from the Jellicle tribe of Cats, including Rum Tum Tugger, Mr. Mistoffelees, the evil Macavity, Old Deuteronomy, Grizabella, and others.

On a special moonlit night every year, the Jellicle Cats reunite in a rubbish dump for the Jellicle Ball. Their benevolent leader, Old Deuteronomy, will choose one of the cats to ascend to a higher level and be reborn into a new life.

In the beginning of this two-act show, there is too much philosophizing in the dialogue, which is heavy going. Act 1 feels episodic. Fortunately, there is enough variety in the various sections to keep the audience entertained. The tap dancing number is particularly good fun. Gillian Lynne’s choreography for this and other dance numbers throughout the show is effective.

The famous theme song “Memory”, which is the climax of Act 1 and is also repeated towards the end of Act 2, is rousingly performed by Joanna Ampil who plays Grizabella in Hong Kong.

Act 2 is more unified and flowing. Particularly memorable are the numbers Macavity and Mistoffelees. The latter is full of magic and spectacle, ending with an exciting, virtuosic male solo. Gus, the theatre cat, is also classy.

“Cats” is a most life-enhancing and timeless musical. So do catch this show before this run ends on 11 February.

The Nutcracker: the all-time favorite Christmas story

“The Nutcracker” is a 19th-century ballet classic that has also withstood the test of time, and gives pleasure to countless audiences all over the world every Christmas season. Australian choreographer Terence Kohler’s version of “The Nutcracker”, premiered by the Hong Kong Ballet six years ago, is definitely one of the best productions staged by the previous artistic director Madeleine Onne who left the company last spring.

Kohler’s main innovation to the story is that the magician Drosselmeyer gifts Clara a dollhouse instead of a nutcracker in the Christmas party in Act 1. And it’s in the dollhouse that the battle between the Rat King and Nutcracker Prince takes place. There are few changes to the national dances in Act 2. What is commendable is that Kohler has kept on improving the production every year. The narrative is now far more clear than before.

The company is in good form. Ye Feifei's dancing is luscious and creamy. She is well matched by Li Jiabo who has improved tremendously in the role of the Nutcracker Prince. In the supporting roles, Naomi Yuzawa is impressive as Clara, while Jonathan Spigner stands out as her naughty brother Fritz.

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The corps de ballet displays impeccable form in The Nutcracker. Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco

veteran dance critic