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By Lea Salonga
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:38:00 06/09/2010

Filed Under: Entertainment (general), stage play, Celebrities

SYDNEY—IT IS TUESDAY, JUNE 1. After a day of rest and sleep, I head off to rehearsal at the Lyric Theatre in Pyrmont. “Cats” is running in this city until June 13.

Some members of the cast have decided to make Sydney their final stop; others have chosen Manila, so there is a big chunk of new people taking over. A lot of them are very young and will, quite aptly, be playing kittens in the show.

My call is at 10 a.m. to start learning music for “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats.” Fiz Shapur (music supervisor, whom I previously met in Manila for the press launch) will be at the helm. I have my score in front of me, plus a highlighter and a pencil.

I am assigned to sing alto. This is going to be a bit tricky: In this one song I’ll have to sing the same chorus eight times, with different lyrics and different harmonies.

Before lunch, I have a costume fitting with Ron and Katrine from the wardrobe department. I put on a cat unitard (one of the most miraculous pieces of costuming I’ve ever seen) and the leg warmers worn for the opening; on top of that, my flapper dress, gloves and fur coat for Grizabella. Nicole is with me for the fitting, and decides to “help” with measuring my feet for shoes.

In the afternoon, I head back into the rehearsal room for dance. On the schedule: Learning choreography to the music we studied that morning. Persons in charge: Sharyn Winney (resident director and choreographer) and Markham Gannon (Sharyn’s assistant). 
This proves to be a major mental and physical task. I find myself singing the wrong lyrics as well as the wrong vocal parts (all understandable for Day 1).

My lack of physical conditioning becomes apparent when I wake up the next day. I feel sore. Really, really sore.

Day 2

I’m walking a bit more gingerly to the rehearsal space. Perhaps the cold, wet weather is keeping me from being more springy. I’m thinking it’s the shock from the day before.

This morning’s session sees us reviewing the opening song again. At about 11:30, I am pulled out to meet Fiz in the conductor’s suite. It’s time to start learning to sing as Grizabella.

She first enters in Act I, with a song called “Remark.” The lyrics are adapted from T. S. Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.”

I have lots of research material: A couple of Eliot poems, a brief physiognomy of the cat and the history of “Cats,” written by Jo-Anne Robinson, director of this current tour.

The afternoon begins with an improv session with Jo-Anne. We get down on all fours and crawl around the room as cats, to fully understand what it’s like to be one. We are given clues as to who we are in the show, and we try to communicate that to everyone else using only our bodies, without speaking. It’s here that I start getting an idea of what Grizabella is about.

Day 3

I feel more confident about dancing and singing at the same time. There are a lot of lyrics to spit out, but they’re starting to permeate my dura mater, thank goodness. Same goes for the choreography.

I’m briefly pulled out of the morning group rehearsal for another one-on-one session with Fiz. We will review Griz’s Act I solos first, and then get to the meat of the matter: “Memory.” (Trivia: The song is sung twice—a short version at the end of Act I, and then the complete version we all know and love, near the end of the Act II). Fiz sounds happy with the progress I’ve made with the song. We spend a lot more time talking about the lyrics and what they could possibly mean. We go to some pretty weird places. Fun, but weird.

And yes, there’s more dancing. My body is on the verge of giving up, but my brain is moving forward. Good news, the opening is almost finished! I’m thankful that this is about all the choreography I’ll have to worry about for the show.

But the rest of the newbies have done but a fraction of what they need to learn. Sharyn reminds us to keep our concentration and focus on the tasks at hand, regardless of how we feel on any given day. I believe the words she used were something like, “You may come into rehearsal feeling a bit tired and light in the head. You know what, I don’t care.” I like her even more after this.

Day 4
Thankfully there is no choreography slated on my schedule, only a brief vocal review of “Jellicle Songs.” Still, I anticipate an emotionally draining day.

When the others head out to lunch, I work one-on-one with Sharyn. There is a dance before the Act I finale (where “Memory” is heard for the first time). Sharyn describes in great detail what has happened so far in the show, and what Grizabella is coming into.

Just how emotionally invested Sharyn obviously is moves me to tears. Grizabella is an isolated, marginalized character, rejected by the other cats. The dance she will teach me will have to reflect that.

After this I head right to physiotherapy to have a checkup. (An in-house therapist, Bronwyn, travels with the tour. On her door is a sign: VET.) Since I injured myself yesterday, she has to do a little therapy.

It works—the muscles loosen up a bit after a half hour. A hot soak is also due.

In the afternoon, I have a session with both Jo-Anne and Sharyn to really thresh out Grizabella. I come away with lots of T. S. Eliot poetry and verses for reference.

We talk about myriad life experiences, similar moments in musical theater. We ask questions (and consume much Kleenex) that will then tell me who this cat is, why she is where she is and how she got there.

In the afternoon, John Ellis (Old Deuteronomy) and Shaun Rennie (Munkustrap) join us for the conversation, since they have the most direct relationships with Grizabella. More questions, timelines, revelations, all sorts of possibilities.

I now have the freedom to figure out this complicated character. It’s not enough to hear “Memory” over and over again, or watch YouTube videos of past Grizabellas.

I have only 12 and a half minutes onstage, but a lifetime of baggage to take with me.


It is the weekend, and I’m taking full advantage of it to rest and recoup. I will be taking my daughter to see “Cats,” to share with her the magic and wonder of this beautiful show. As punishing as the week has been at points, it’s also been incredibly fulfilling. I am one happy cat.

I have one more week here before flying home. Hopefully by the time tech rehearsals begin at the CCP, I won’t have forgotten all that I’ve learned here.

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Orly S. Agawin

The author Orly S. Agawin

Orly has been writing for The Jellicle Blog since 2008. He is a training and development consultant by day and an art enthusiast by night. He lives in Parañaque with his mom.

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