January 21, 2004

Cats in Prague

No, this entry is not about felines in the town of Prague. It is also not about a Prague performance of the Webber musical Cats. It's about the musical Cats In Prague. Sounds odd? Well, it is. Very odd indeed...

Myrto is a wonderful friend of mine for over 20 years now. We met up with her in Prague. She arrived a day early, though, so on her first night there (without us) she went to see the musical Cats In Prague. She sugested that we check it out, and so we did the night after Myrto had left. We laughed our hearts out, though the musical is definitely not intended to be a comedy... still, it shows how different people can enjoy the same show for very different reasons.

Myrto had never seen the real Cats. As a result, she evaluated the show as it stood on its own. As such, it has upbeat music, with lyrics in English (though they are not very easy to understand), and the style of the performance is intriguing: it is Black Theater, which means a black light is the only illumination, and the performers are in white, which glows under the black light. As for the performers, they were mostly hand puppets: one hand being the head of a cat puppet, the other hand being its body (the palm) and legs (the fingers). There were also three dancers (one man, two women) dressed in white, as well as a multitude of props such as white string which performers shaped to form the outline of scenery such as a house, staircases, etc. Given the available nighttime entertainment in Prague's center, which is mostly strip clubs, sex shops, and dance clubs with go-go dancers, the 1 hour-long Cats In Prague is clearly a better alternative for $15. And, in its own right, it's quite a fun piece, esp. for children or those of us who are still child-like.

However, if you've seen Webber's Cats, the show has a wholly different dimension. It is outright hilarious in its feeble attempt to copy-cat (har har) the original.

First off, the poster advertising the show (all around the tourist trap called the Old Town) is virtually identical to that of the original show, only the cat eyes are just cat eyes (instead of the eye slit shaped like a dancer). And it blatantly says 'Why go to West End to see musical?'...

Next, the music is clearly a rip-off. Except that, for copyright reasons, it's slightly different... Still, the intro to most songs, and general beat is identical. Even I could tell the similarity despite being musically-challenged.

As for the lyrics, imagine all songs sung by the Chipmunks: high-pitched voices singing...

If you're feeling unhappy and lonely
And you're sure that you'll never be happy again

And so on... not much sense in the lyrics, and nothing to match T.S. Eliot's poetry (even if his intended audience was children). The songs corresponded almost one-to-one with the original's songs, with Grizabella singing 'night sky in the city on Prague' and 'changes after the dawn' (in the original, she sings 'Memory' whose lyrics I assume you know and can see how similar they are to Prague's imitation). And there is also a performance by the Prague Boss of Cats (think Macavity).

The real-life dancers were, shall we say, not of West End quality and, as such, they were a true parody of their Apollo Theater counterparts. Oh, and they lip-sang.

Finally, the plot as a whole is fairly weak even in the original Cats: T.S. Eliot's poems each describe a different type of cat --- to turn it into a musical, a weak glue of a plot was added whereby all cats come together for a ball at which they chose one cat to be reborn; in this setting, Eliot's poems describe the cats that come to the ball. Eventually, Grizabella gets chosen and ascends into her place of rebirth. Pretty weak to start off, right? Well, in Prague, the puppets all ascend a staircase, at the end of which their bodies are replaced with tutus (tissue paper) lit from a flashlight underneath, and fly away... go figure.

Overall, it reminded of me of the first time I saw the Russian cartoon Wolf and Rabbit ("Hey, Wait Up"), done in imitation of Tom and Jerry and/or Ralph Wolf (Wile E. Coyote) and Bugs Bunny. Though entertaining in its own right, when compared against Tom and Jerry, a whole new layer of hilarity was added to it... By the way, if you haven't seen the real Russian Wolf and Rabbit, the Simpsons have an episode where they show a parody of it, with a Cat and Mouse (because Itchy and Scrathy get Kancelled).

We had a fantastic time and couldn't stop laughing.

Posted by Toli at January 21, 2004 09:37 AM