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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Cape Town Opera’s Show Boat Sails Into Birmingham on its First UK & Ireland Tour

ImageThis week, the Birmingham Hippodrome is releasing tickets for its summer run of Cape Town Opera’s Show Boat. As the first stop on its upcoming UK and Ireland tour in July, the Hippodrome and its audiences will be treated to the country’s first ever performance of this production.

Based on a novel by Edna Ferber, Show Boat is set in the old American south, and was first performed on Broadway in 1927. It tells the story of the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River Show Boat, following the lives of its performers, stagehands, and dock workers over a 40-year period.

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In the Cape Town Opera production, the theme of racial tensions is given added significance, reflecting South Africa’s troubled past while looking forward to the bright future ahead. The company has performed to great acclaim around the world, and its chorus was last year named Best International Opera Chorus at the International Opera Awards.

Glad to welcome Cape Town Opera back to Birmingham after its 2012 tour of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, the Hippodrome’s Chief Executive Stuart Griffiths describes the booking as part of the theatre’s “ongoing ambition to bring the city the best in international performance from the finest companies across the world”.

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Directed by Janice Honeyman and accompanied by the Cape Philarmonic Orchestra, the show features set design by the renowned Johan Engels, and over 200 carefully crafted period costumes.

Said Michael Williams, Managing Director of Cape Town Opera:

“We are thrilled to bring Cape Town Opera’s production of Show Boat to the UK for the very first time, with an exceptional cast, our award-winning chorus and joined by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. This first UK visit of this production will showcase the talents of the company whilst offering a wonderful spectacle and experience for all the family.”

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Cape Town Opera’s Show Boat will be showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Wednesday 2nd to Saturday 5th July. Member tickets are on sale from today, and tickets will be available for the general public from Wednesday 12th February, priced at £17.50-£43. To book, call 0844 338 5000 or visit the Birmingham Hippodrome Website. If you’re aged 16-23 and using the First Night scheme, don’t forget to tell us what you think.

Images by Malin Arnesson.