Make Up Magic – Backstage with the Cast of CATS

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Today, the CATS musical tour begins its hotly anticipated run at the Birmingham Hippodrome, where it will be presented to excited audiences until 27th September. In advance of this evening’s first night performance, members of the press were invited backstage to watch the cast prepare for the show, with actors Filippo Strocchi and Callum Train giving us an exclusive glimpse into the creation of their characters, Rum Tum Tugger and Munkustrap.

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Unsurprisingly, learning to turn yourself into a cat is a tricky and sometimes slow process. Though the musical was first performed over 30 years ago, the make-up designs are subtly changed for each production to suit the faces of the actors involved. Callum and Filippo described the first time they got into full make-up, when a professional artist painted half their face and they were left to copy her designs on the other side. Detailed instructions on how to recreate each look are issued to the actors early on, and it can take a fair few attempts before they’re happy to take their chances without using these.

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Now, with practice and confidence, it typically takes 20-30 minutes to get fully made-up, but there have been some efforts made to get finished faster: after discovering that Marlene Danielle, who performed in CATS on Broadway for an astonishing 17 years, claimed that, with all her experience, she could get ready in just 7 minutes, the cast instigated their own “7-minute challenge”, with varying degrees of success…

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But despite the thick layers of make-up, and all the effort that goes into the feline transformation, the final result is apparently nothing like as uncomfortable as it looks. According to Filippo, even with sensitive skin, the high-quality make-up the actors use causes no irritation, though removing everything from around their eyes can be tricky! The costumes too, though not the easiest to squeeze yourself into, are specially made to fit each actor, rendering them quite snug and comfortable to wear. “It’s like a second skin,” said Callum. 

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Of course, another good reason to have fresh costumes for each performer is that, once worn on stage a few times, they won’t be left in a particularly pleasant state. CATS is a breathtakingly energetic show, that includes one of the longest, toughest dance sequences to appear in any musical. It’s partly thanks to the Jellicle Ball scene that the actors need a lot of powder on their faces, in order to prevent their make-up from running when they inevitably start to sweat!

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Since every single member of the ensemble cast has a named, recognisable part, CATS is a show where no one can get away without looking and sounding their very best on stage. Because of this, it’s a brilliant show for actors, giving everyone a chance to shine and make their presence known. On the other hand, it’s truly exhausting work, and the huge demands it places on its actors can make it very difficult to cast. 

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For Italian Filippo, being a part of CATS has some special, personal resonance, this being the show that originally inspired his career. “When I was ten, I saw CATS in London,” he explained. “Before that, I had been mostly interested in football and rock music, and I didn’t really know anything about musicals. It changed my life.”

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Who knows – perhaps through his own performance as Rum Tum Tugger, Filippo may go on to inspire a new generation of young actors….

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CATS will be showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from 10-27 September. To book tickets, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

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