BWW Interview: Joanna Ampil Talks CATS, Grizabella Makeup And More!
Joanna Ampil may have already checked off Grizabella from her dream roles, but there's something about the musical that makes her want to reprise the role once more. "I'm doing it again because it's in Manila, hahaha!" she shared. "I've always wanted to bring Cats to Manila and finally we have the chance, so I'm excited. I'm nervous also, but I'm more excited about it."
Manila, Philippines - Extended for two more weeks, the international production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats will now be staged at The Theatre at Solaire from 6 November - 1 December 2019.
World-renowned musical theater actress Joanna Ampil, previously seen in Manila as Jenna in the international premiere of Waitress, will be playing Grizabella, a role she has played in Cats' UK and European Tour (2013-2014) and World Tour (2017-2018).
The Philippines first witnessed Cats back in 2010 where Tony winner Lea Salonga played the role of Grizabella the Glamour Cat. Almost a decade later, here comes another chance to see it again.
Joining Joanna in the cast are Luke Fraser Yates (Munkustrap), George Hinson (Rum Tum Tugger), Gavin Eden (Skimbleshanks), Kirsty Ingram (Rumpelteazer), Elizabeth Futter (Jellylorum), Sally Frith (Bombalurina), Erica-Jayne Alden (Demeter), Amy Whittle (Jennyanydots), Elle Young (Victoria/White Cat), Holly Willock (Jemima), Danielle Cato (Cassandra), Gabrielle Cocca (Tantomile), Cian Hughes (Carbucketty), Rhys Batten (Coricopat), Thomas Inge (Macavity/Ademtus), Mukeni Nel (Bill Bailey), Lloyd Davies (Alonzo), Abigail Dever (Swing 1F), Alexandra Wright (Swing 2F), Elly Shaw (Swing 3F), Liam Buckland (Swing 1M), Lee Nicholson (Swing 2M), and Brian O'Muiri (Swing 3M).
Undoubtedly, Cats is one of the most well-known musicals of all time, based on T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats." It's one of the longest-running shows on Broadway and West End, which includes the famous song "Memory" that is sung by the character of Grizabella.
"It's one of those shows that I always wanted to put on my CV," Joanna said. She recalls watching the show when she was 17 and immediately relating to Grizabella. "This part has been my dream role for the longest time. [...] I don't know why but ever since then, I had my eye on it, but I was too young at that time so I had to wait a few years after that."
She shared that she did a private audition with the show's composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber for the role of Mary Magdalene back in Jesus Christ Superstar. Despite having played Grizabella a couple of times already, he hasn't watched her do the role yet. "I hope he still remembers me, hahaha! He hasn't seen me in this role, but he's seen the people who's played Grizabella after me, but not during my time. So, hopefully, around this time, in Manila or Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, he gets to watch it now."
The character of Grizabella appears on stage in a little over 30 minutes. Opposite to her castmates who are generally exhausted after doing a show, she gets more time and energy to explore the cities where the show has toured before. "Each place that I visit is different so that's what's so exciting for me. I love traveling. Parang feeling ko (I feel like) I've won the lottery with Cats, because I get to travel, get paid, and do what I love in my dream role, and I only do 34 minutes of the show. And I get the best dressing room!" Touring Cats has enriched her with the knowledge of many diverse cultures as well as friends from all around the world. It also allowed her to learn the different audience responses as there'll be varied reception of the show every time.
She disclosed that one of the hardest things in playing Grizabella would have to be the expectations of the people, especially with the song "Memory" as it has been sung by many artists already. "It's always nerve-wracking because you know that the people know the words so well so you can't make mistakes."
When asked about dream roles she wants to do in the future, she said, "It's so hard because I'd sound greedy. I feel like I've played some of the most iconic roles already and it would be a bonus to play something else. Mary Poppins is one. She's not defined by a relationship with a man or anything like that. I like independent characters."
Since the very first time that she played the role of Grizabella, Joanna has more experience that makes upcoming performances different. Like with her pre-show preparation, the Grizabella makeup that used to take her an hour and a half can be done in just 20 minutes. "It's more polished because I know it so well now. That's why I said that it's a perfected version of the show because everyone knows their character so well now. So, it's just playing around with that and adding a little bit of this and that and layering up the character much more. So yeah, that makes it better as time goes on and like, I've been playing it for quite some time but it doesn't get old."
She may have already checked off Grizabella from her dream roles, but there's something about the musical that makes her want to reprise the role once more. "I'm doing it again because it's in Manila, hahaha!" she shared. "I've always wanted to bring Cats to Manila and finally we have the chance, so I'm excited. I'm nervous also, but I'm more excited about it."
It's truly exciting to see Joanna reprise her role for the Filipino audience this time around. With the Manila run extending for two more weeks, there are more opportunities to catch the timeless and magical musical that is Cats.
Photo: Alessandro Pinna | Video: Carla Delgado