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"CATS" need to learn cat walk

Cats Dance into Beijing in April

Cats eyes future success



Cats Dance into Beijing in April

The wildly popular Broadway musical Cats will frolic its way through nine shows in Beijing's Great Hall of the People from April 27 to May 3. The cast is the same one originally scheduled to perform last year for two months at the Tianqiao Theatre. The run was postponed then owing to the SARS epidemic.

According to the Beijing sponsor, the China Performance Art Agency (CPAA), more than 20 million yuan (US$2.4 million) was spent to bring Cats to China. This may be the nation's most expensive theatre performance ever.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has insisted since Cats debuted in London 23 years ago that every detail of the play remain unchanged, no matter where the performance is held. That way, audiences in Beijing in 2004 can see the same show that delighted London audiences in 1981.

The Really Useful Group (RUG), an international entertainment company Webber founded in 1977, has sent a team to the Great Hall of the People to draw up plans for the new stage to be built especially for this event. The stage will be the largest that Cats has ever been performed on, so the cast and crew are looking ahead to some challenges as well as to the thrill of performing in the Great Hall of the People.

In keeping with the troupe's usual practice, some local artists will be hired for minor roles in the play. Twenty professional actors will join the regular cast. Although they may not even have speaking roles, these extras are expected to maintain very high standards, and a team of coaches will be sent from England to train them.

As the old Chinese saying goes, "Good things never come easy." The long-anticipated performance of Cats was postponed because of SARS and because of glitches in negotiations. Finally, the CPAA and RUG both made some concessions and the deal was clinched at the price of 20 million yuan.

CPAA manager Zhang Yu says that the chance of turning a profit on the Beijing run of Cats is almost nil. "It will be a great success if we can break even on the deal. But it makes great sense in terms of providing Beijing citizens the chance to enjoy this delightful art, and of improving circumstances for the development of musicals in China."

Almost 10,000 tickets had been sold when SARS hit Beijing last year. CPAA is offering preferential treatment to those who saved their unused tickets last year and wish to exchange them for tickets to this spring's performance.

After negotiations with RUG, CPAA agreed to sell only 5,000 tickets for each show, half the capacity of the hall, to ensure that everyone in the audience has a good time. The third-floor balcony will be closed, and some seats in remote corners of the first and second floors will not be available.

Reading the expressions on the faces of the characters in the play is vital to understanding the story. The most advanced digital lighting equipment and giant screens placed to either side of the stage will ensure that the audience can see the every movement and expression of every cat on the stage.

Seven classes of tickets are available for Cats, ranging in price from 1,680 yuan (US$203) to 120 yuan (US$14.50).

The performance of Cats coincides with the openings of the Meet in Beijing and Beijing International Theatre Season festivals.

The cast, which has already performed in 26 countries, will travel to South Africa, South Korea and Japan after the Beijing performances.

Performance Details:

Dates: April 27 -- May 3

Venue: The Great Hall of the People

Ticket Prices: 1,680 yuan (US$203), 1,280 yuan (US$155), 880 yuan (US$106), 680 yuan (US$82), 380 yuan (US$46), 180 yuan (US$22) and 120 yuan (US$14.50).

Booking: 6406 8888, 6406 9999

Online Booking: by Chen Lin, March 1, 2004

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