Posted : 2014-06-08 17:32
Updated : 2014-06-08 17:38

Broadway staple 'Cats' is back

"Cats" revolves around a tribe of cats with unique personalities.
/ Courtesy of Seol & Company

By Kwon Mee-yoo

The tuneful melody of "Memory" will resonate in Korea once again as the onstage feline pals of musical "Cats" returns to Korea at Blue Square in Hannam-dong this week.

This production of "Cats" had three-day previews at Ansan Arts Center in Gyeonggi Province from May 30 to June 1 and now preparing for the Seoul run starting this Friday.

Three cast members — Erin Cornell, Earl Gregory and Emma Delmenico — shared their excitement ahead of the main gig.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "Cats" premiered in London's West End in 1981 and performed in over 30 countries in 15 languages since then. As of 2014, "Cats" is the second longest-running show in Broadway history with 7,485 performances from 1982 to 2000 and the fourth longest-running West End musical for 8,950 performances from 1981 to 2002. It first arrived in Korea in 1994 and drew over 1.2 million audience members in both touring and Korean licensed productions.

Based on T. S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," the musical tells the story of a variety of cats and a unique custom of "the Jellicle choice," which selects a cat to go up to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn into a new life. Each cat's life reflects complex characters of human.

The show has charmed audiences all across the globe for over 30 years and it led a generation of young talent to musical theater.

From left, Erin Cornell (playing Grizabella), Earl Gregory (Rum Tum Tugger) and Emma Delmenico (resident choreographer) will perform in "Cats" at Blue Square in Hannam-dong, starting Friday.

Cornell, 28, playing the glamour cat Grizabella who sings the song standard "Memory," said she saw the video clip of Elaine Paige playing Grizabella who originated the role in the West End, when she was about eight years old.

"As soon as I saw it, I told my mother that I want to play that role. I wanted to sing ‘Memory,'" Cornell said.

The Melbourne-born actress now based in London played the iconic green witch Elphaba from "Wicked" at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan and also starred in shows such as "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Gregory, 31, playing the womanizer Rum Tum Tugger, is from South Africa. He has played the fickle tomcat before and was excited to reprise the role in his first visit to Korea. "I am blessed to do it again. Playing Rum Tum Tugger twice in a lifetime is like a dream," Gregory said.

Aussie actress Delmenico, 32, resident choreographer of this production, has been with the show for nine years. She first began as a performer and later a choreographer and swing, a cast member who fills in for multiple ensemble roles when someone is absent.

All three of them were encouraged by the audience reaction from their previews in Ansan, south of Seoul.

"All audiences here were respectful of the show, but enthusiastic at the same time. They were responsive to the storyline, reacted at the appropriate moments and acknowledged the show really well by clapping and cheering," Delmenico said.

According to Delmenico, being a "physical show" made "Cats" such a big global hit. "There is no language barrier. Audiences can understand what actors are singing even though it is sung in a different language. It is such a physical show that you can watch the actor's physicality as a cat and understand what story they're portraying and what emotion they're feeling," she said. "Also everyone can relate to a specific character in the show — every cat has the personality of someone in the public."

Gregory added that the show has a cult following thanks to enormous detail. "Lloyd Webber's works are classical and survived longer, but ‘Cats' has something more than that. There are so much happening on the stage and you can always find something new even though you watched the show before," he said.

Being a cat

The cast members of "Cats" start their rehearsal with a special training — becoming a cat.

Delmenico, who taught the choreography, said it begins with observing and imagining how a cat moves, sniffs and cleans itself. "We all get down to our hands and knees and think like a cat. It senses and feels things differently than human, so you have to get your mind to think that way. Also you can't copy someone but have to work own your own to create your cat," she said.

After acquainted with the basics, each cast member is awarded with a tail, which will be their companion throughout the rehearsal to get familiar with the extension of their body.

"We get to decorate our tail to describe each character. I did mine with mice, inspired by the lyrics of my song ‘Rum Tum Tugger,'" Gregory explained. "It is like one of your limbs. Once I had to rush for rehearsal and forgot my tail — I felt naked without it."

Cornell, who sings the biggest and the most famous number in the show, said the most challenging thing for her was keeping the balance between vocality and physicality.

"I didn't find the songs including ‘Memory' challenging vocally, but then I had to bend as a cat and sing the song well and convey the emotion at the same time," the actress said.

Her rehearsal tail was spruced up with black and gold glitters, black lace and a big bow to go with the alluring nature of Grizabella.

"Cats" is also known for interaction with audiences. The Korean production named first row seats and aisle seats as "Jellicle Seat" as those seats offer more frequent interaction with the actors, or cats.

"We have this ‘playtime' and eight cats go into the house during the interval. Kittens could sit on a lady's lap or even empty someone's handbag. So hold onto your belongings!," Delmenico said.

"Cats" will run through Aug. 24 at Blue Square. The musical is in English with Korean subtitles. Tickets cost from 50,000 to 140,000 won.

After Seoul shows, the musical will tour other Korean cities such as Busan and Daegu. Exact dates will be announced later. For more information, visit or call 1577-3363.

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