Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.
After setting off musical-theatre mania in Toronto 28 years ago, Cats returns with a new all-Canadian production at the Panasonic Theatre on May 28. Cats is a musical based on a collection of poems by English poet T.S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. A radical departure from his still-elusive masterwork, The Wasteland, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a less-studied (and less impenetrable) collection of whimsical poems that revolve around the psychology and sociology of, yes, cats. Eliot wrote them during the 1930s under his assumed name of “Old Possum,” and included them in letters to his godchildren. The poems were collected and published in 1939 with cover illustrations by Eliot himself, and quickly re-published in 1940, newly illustrated by Nicolas Bentley. Two re-illustrated versions have since been published: by Edward Gorey in 1982 and Axel Scheffler in 2009.
The musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles who have reunited for their annual celebration, the “Jellicle Ball” where the group’s elder Old Deuteronomy will choose a cat to ascend to Heaviside Layer and become reborn. The 20-member cast will feature many notable Canadian performers, including original company member Susan Cuthbert (Christine Daaé in the original Canadian production of The Phantom of the Opera) as Jennyanydots / Griddlebone / Jellylorum, Ma-Anne Dionisio (original Kim in the Canadian production of Miss Saigon) as Grizabella and Charles Azulay (Canadian productions of Miss Saigon and Les Misérables) as Old Deuteronomy.
The framework of singing and dancing cats ruminating on reincarnation might sound wild. But the cool sets (enhanced in this production by Rose and Thistle’s hologram technology Holographic Paramotion), soaring melodies and innovative choreography can provide an exceptional showcase for a talented cast. This makes Cats a must-see classic of musical theatre. (And if you read the poems first, the lyrics — which are Eliot’s words — may not seem quite so opaque.) One final interesting fact . . . while almost all the lyrics in Cats are Eliot’s, those to the most recognizable song “Memory” was, in fact, written by original director Trevor Nunn, inspired by Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.”