Lea plays Grizabella in Webber's musical
By Earl D.C. Bracamonte

Almost a decade after Cameron Mackintosh's spectacular 3-season Miss Saigon run at the CCP, another spellbinding production unfolds in Manila this July: Andrew Lloyd Webber's highly-acclaimed musical CATS! A superb international cast, starring one of theater's finest performers, Lea Salonga, plays the role of glamour cat Grizabella.
“She's agile and mysterious. She's a cat! Our movements are very feline. While most of our faces are hidden beneath layers of makeup, everybody remains human. The costumes doesn't take out the humanity of the characters we portray,” shared the multi-awarded singer-actress during an exclusive interview at the Dusit Thani Manila.
A unique and inspiring musical, CATS is based on the book of poems Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, written by T.S. Elliot and first published in 1939. Although Elliot generally thought his cat poems were intended for children, they turned out to be equally appealing and amusing to adults. Over seventy years after, the story and characters still hold immense appeal for audiences of any age and background.
With a little adaptation, Webber used Elliot's poems as lyrics and set them to music to create the musical. The inclusion of elements from Elliot's other unpublished writings brought to life the glamour cat Grizabella, who provided the pivotal storyline for the musical.
Grizabella is shunned by the rest of the Jellicle tribe despite being one of their own. She left the tribe years ago to explore the outside world and now wants to return. Wanting to rejoin her family and be a part of the celebration, she is left to contemplate on her Memory of the time before she left the tribe. She stretches out her hand behind her, hoping another cat will touch her. She is still not accepted and, disappointed, slinks off into the night.
“It's the shortest role I've ever played at 12 ½ minutes as against the previous roles I portrayed where there's a courtship between me and the audience. Here, it's a wham and bang thing!” added Leah.
CATS tells the imaginative tale of a tribe of Jellicle Cats as they gather together for the annual Jellicle Ball, and one by one tell their stories for the entertainment of Old Deuteronomy, who must choose one of the Cats to journey to the Heaviside Layer to be 'reborn' into a new life.
CATS is quite simply a phenomenon. Since its opening at the New London Theater, in the West End on 11 May 1981, CATS has been presented in twenty-six countries and over three hundred cities, including Buenos Aires, Seoul, Helsinki and Singapore. Within two and a half years of the London opening, new productions in New York, Tokyo, Budapest and Vienna appeared, and the first of four US touring productions hit the road.
With magnificent music composed by the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber, including the poignant hit song Memory, an imaginative set design, inspired choreography and stunning costumes, CATS is a brilliant song-and-dance production not to be missed as it makes its premiere in the Philippines. The magnificent stage, set in a rubbish camp and three times larger than life, is strewn with about 1,500 pieces of props. It boasts of an international entourage of 53 people including cast, crew and a live band which plays offstage throughout the two-and-a-half hour performance.
Towards the end, Grizabella reappears. Again she recalls her Memory of how things used to be. This time the cats accept her back into the tribe and it is she who is chosen to journey to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn.
“We'll do the choreography as it was written; melding jazz, ballet and contemporary dance movements. I might do Pilates to make me more relaxed, stretched and strong. I'll bring my 'tools' uniquely as possible on how to shape her, the character,” enthused Miss Saigon's original Kim.
CATS has been translated into ten languages: Nihongo, Deutsch (three versions for Germany, Austria and Switzerland), Hungarian, Norwegian, Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish (two versions for Mexico and Argentina), and Italian. The Swiss production required a bilingual cast who performed in German and English on alternate nights. There have been over 40 different productions of CATS around the globe, including a Big Top tour in Australia.
CATS is the best-known and best-loved musical the world has ever known. It once held the record for the longest-running musical on the West End, surpassed recently by another Webber musical Les Miserables. In addition, CATS played 18 years on Broadway and continued to live up to its motto of playing 'Now and Forever' until 10 September 2000 after 7,485 performances; becoming the longest-running musical on Broadway until surpassed on 9 January 2006 by, still, another Webber musical The Phantom of the Opera.
Grizabela's swan song, Memory, has been recorded by a variety of over 150 artists ranging from Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis to Liberace. Barry Manilow's rendition was a top-40 hit in the US.
“I was a guest with the British Equity when I did Miss Saigon the first time so they were a little generous and gracious than the Americans as there were casting issues when I did Miss Saigon on Broadway. My dream roles are that of Eva Peron (Evita) and Elphapa (Wicked). Fantine was also a challenge as she did everything for her child. She had limited opportunities and when her beauty was also taken away (due to consumption) she had practically nothing left for her to go on. But still she provided for her child. I felt fulfilled each night doing it. Victor Hugo wrote her character so explicitly in the novel that he made it easy for me to create her on stage,” declared the global artist, who brought the Philippines unto the world map of entertainment.
CATS first opened in London to rave reviews and went on to win a record-breaking number of awards worldwide including two Olivier Awards for 'Musical of the Year' and 'Outstanding Achievement of the Year in Musicals' as well as seven Tony Awards.
The Original London Cast Recording won the 1982 Grammy Award for Best Cast Album. The following year, the Original Broadway Cast Recording won the same award.
At the conclusion of the Jellicle Ball, Old Deuteronomy instructs the human spectators in 'The Addressing of Cats' that for all their unique qualities and differences, he says, “Cats are very much like you.”
CATS opens July 24th at the CCP Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (Main Theater) with evening performances at 8PM from Tuesdays through Saturdays and 7:30PM on Sundays as well as matinee shows at 3PM on Saturdays and 2:30PM on Sundays. For more information, simply contact Concertus at 403-2099 and 0920-9277188 or email You may also dial the ticket purchase hot-line 891-9999 and/or browse the official Web site


  1. Heartfelt gratitude is extended to Ms. Irene Rada of the CCP PR Office for providing a seat at the Partierre Box 24 for the Aug. 4th show. Hugs & kisses, mwah!


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