Now 25 years old, the feline fantasy 'Cats' fails to inspire Bangkok audiences
Published on November 22, 2007
Paws for thought
When "Cats" opened on Broadway in 1982, New York Times theatre critic Frank Rich predicted that the production would run for a long time. This was, he noted, not because it's a brilliant musical, but because it "transports the audience into a complete fantasy world that could only exist in theatre".
Part of the reason is John Napier's set design that completely transforms the playhouse into a huge junkyard. When "Cats" went on tour, playhouses and venues in several countries were adapted to fit this production concept.
When this reviewer watched "Cats" for the first time in 1995, this message - as well as the critical jab that the show is little more than a bunch of cats dancing around - rang true. I was mesmerised by the set, lighting and costume designs, fully entertained by the high-octane spectacle, filled with the 1980s music and choreography, and yet at the end was left with few "Memories".
Evidently, the producers who brought "Cats" to Bangkok did not have time and did not want to spare much of their profits to create the same kind of fantastical feline world. Walking into the Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre on opening night, the set of "Cats" was limited to the stage only.
However, director Jo-Anne Robinson adapted Trevor Nunn's direction and Gillian Lynne's original choreography to fit this narrow stage and had her skilful performers come down the aisles to shake paws with the audience.
Even so, "Cats" did not connect with Bangkok audiences, many of whom had their own dreams during the first act. In a star-studded elevator during the intermission, the conversation overheard consisted more of "Did you doze off?" than "How did you enjoy it?". Yet at the end of the gala performance, the ones who stuck it out jumped to their feet for an ovation following the examples set by their producer bosses.
It is perhaps worth noting that this touring production was originally designed for audiences in rural towns of South Korea, China and Scandinavia. Wait a minute, since when is Bangkok rural?
Right now, this is the only production of "Cats" available anywhere in the world. Is that a good marketing point? No. All it really means is that audience demand for this modern classic is no longer what it used to be. The fact that the Bt1,000 and Bt2,000 tickets are selling better and faster than the ones that cost Bt3,000 and Bt4,000 is not surprising either.
The Thai producers may say that they want to introduce Thai audiences to a Broadway classic, and even though "Cats" is one of the cheapest shows on the international circuit, they are charging more than they could in Broadway, where the top ticket sells for $110 (Bt3,700). Little wonder they have cream all over their whiskers.
So, if not "Cats", what other musicals should be brought to this land of Siamese felines?
First, there is "Forbidden City", a visually elegant and emotionally touching musical, which premiered five years ago at the opening of Singapore's Esplanade, and revived to critical and commercial success on many occasions. In fact, the composition team of Scenario must have enjoyed it, as many notes of one musical number in their "Taviphob the Musical" were similar.
These producers may also want to think about drawing international audiences away from our competitor Singapore, to which many Thai theatregoers are now heading to watch "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang".
If "Phantom" and "The Lion King" are too expensive to be brought here, then there's "Movin' Out", a modern dance spectacle set to Billy Joel's music, as well as the multi-award winning "The Producers" and "Hairspray".
There's more on the list and it they can be found at Broadway-asia.com and Lunchbox-productions.com. Or you could contact Scenario and BEC Tero and tell them what you really want to see.
"Cats" closes on Sunday. For more information, visit Catsbangkokatmsn.com.
The writer can be contacted at Pawit.M @ chula.ac.th.