With a new cast and stage set, the classic musical, which was adapted from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, sparkles with a fusion of music, dance and verses, taking on a new life for a new generation of theatergoers.
Since its premiere in London in 1981, Cats has toured over 30 countries and has been translated into 15 languages.
In 2003, the musical made its debut in China with 54 shows staged at Shanghai Grand Theater.
One of the new cast members for the musical is Chinese-Dutch actress Hsu Li-Tong, who was born and raised in Deventer, Netherlands.
She plays the role of Grizabella, or the Glamour Cat, who is the principal character in the musical and sings the hit song, Memory.
“It’s one of the greatest musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I never imagined myself in the show. It’s like a dream. I feel proud of myself, especially to sing Memory,” says Hsu in Beijing, where the musical was staged until July 14.
“Proud, hurt and indomitable, those were the three words our choreographer Chrissie Cartwright used to describe Grizabella, when we first started rehearsals in London,” says Hsu.
“I learned to mimic the movements of cats, such as walking and yawning,” says Hsu, adding that while she spent about two hours doing the makeup for the role at the start, she now does it in 20 minutes.
Hsu got the opportunity to do audition for Grizabella, when Cats toured China last year and the creative team members behind the musical saw Hsu’s performance in another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Tell Me On A Sunday. That show done in Mandarin, which opened in Shanghai in June last year and toured Chinese cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou, was a joint production between China and the United Kingdom.
“Many actresses have played the role of Grizabella, and each of them has their own interpretation. People expect to see the same version of the musical every time and I am open to that,” say Hsu.
“But as everyone in the team comes from UK except me, my cultural influences make me different.”
Hsu, who started to sing from a young age, says that she has enjoyed holding a hair brush and singing and dancing in front of a mirror at home since she was a little girl.
Hsu says she took part in many plays and musicals in school, and at 11 she decided she wanted to become a musical actress. She has been formally trained in musical theater at the Rotterdam Conservatory. And she was the first and only Chinese musical theater actress to play the role of Kim in a production of Miss Saigon in Europe in multiple languages. Her other credits include Mimi in Rent staged in Amsterdam, and Virilla in The Frogs staged in London.
In 2017, Hsu was part of her first Chinese musical, the Chinese version of Broadway classic Jekyll & Hyde, in which she played the role of Lucy Harris. Then, later the same year, she played the lead female role, Sara, in the Chinese version of Murder Ballad, a popular off-Broadway musical.
Hsu, who speaks many languages, including English, Dutch and Italian, improved her Mandarin while performing in Chinese musicals.
One of the Chinese musical actors she worked with was Zheng Yunlong, who has gained popularity on China’s entertainment scene, thanks to the 12-episode reality show Super Vocal, produced by Hunan Satellite TV, which premiered on Nov 2.