We caught Joanna Ampil in a very explosive portrayal of a glamour cat.
Any theatergoer of any measurable regularity would have to have been living under a rock if unaware of the giant ruckus caused by the first full trailer of the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS a couple of months ago. And any theatergoer of any measurable regularity could be pardoned if they took one look at it and asked themselves “What’s the big deal?”. But therein lies the trouble with CATS (The show, not actual cats): Nobody can actually say with certainty just what on earth it is.
CATS is based on a collection of poems by the great T.S. Eliot, set to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The show first premiered on the West End in 1981, and then on Broadway 1982, under the direction of Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Gillian Lynne. CATS has no discernible plot, apart from a thin, almost negligible, matter of which singular cat gets to go to their version of heaven. This provides the basic premise around which all the different characters of this ensemble musical introduce themselves as candidates for the honor of ascending to the Heavyside Layer.
One of the highlights of the musical, and one of the plot threads that run through the length of the show is the story of Grizabella. A down-on-her-luck, former glamour cat that is less concerned about the prospect of heaven, and more about her desire to be reintegrated into her tribe. Due to some unexplained reason, she was shunned by the rest of the Jellicle CATS, and pops up from time to time to try and join the group, only to be turned away. As the penultimate song to the show, Memory is the final exposition of the character. It is the resolution to Grizabella’s plot thread. Veteran performer Joanna Ampil takes on the mantle of the emotional center of this show’s universe and dazzles in her rendition of “Memory” the show’s most popular song.
When the song opens, the first, familiar, bars of music echo the tentative way Grizabella approaches her former tribe. Ampil captivates as she emotionally fluctuates between bitter, spiteful to wistful and hopeful throughout the song. Her clear voice cuts through with pin-point accuracy, masterfully enunciating every word in turn. One of the most thrilling things about her performance was the showcase of her brilliant low range that resonates with the great emotional weight. At the appropriate time, she unleashes a powerful, very precise belt that makes the rafters ring, which should really be experienced in the flesh to truly appreciate. She leaves you spellbound as she explodes in the final verse of the song. Truly one of the most satisfying performances of this particular song by one of our most seasoned performers.
“her performance… resonates with the great emotional weight. At the appropriate time, she unleashes a powerful, very precise belt that makes the rafters ring”
Memory is by no means a simple song, and incidentally, one that’s not based on any of the poems by Eliot. It is a soulful and emotionally charged song that is so exposed in its raw state. Joanna Ampil more than inhabits this iconic song, she manages the herculean task of making something as popular as Memory sound fresh and new. Despite the age of the material itself, it is reassuring to see this new production and their efforts in making the show more relevant for the next generation of theatergoers.
“CATS” runs at The Theatre at Solaire and will close by December 1, 2019. Tickets are available at TicketWorld.