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China audiences lapping up Mandarin Cats
The adaptation of the musical Cats into Mandarin is getting rave reviews in Beijing and helping to win over a new broadway audience, as Huey Fern Tay reports.

According to folk wisdom, cats have nine lives. And the musical of the same name certainly has staying power.

Now it's won yet another lease of life, winning rave reviews in China after being translated into Mandarin.

China correspondent, Huey Fern Tay, reports from Beijing.
HUEY FERN TAY, REPORTER: It's been 30 years since China experienced a winter this cold. But wave after wave of locals in Beijing have braved sub-zero temperatures to catch the local adaptation of one of the world's longest running musicals.

The capital is the production's third stop after Shanghai and Guangzhou. It's another sell-out show, and that means another 1,500 tickets sold.

(Footage of the cast of 'Cats' singing in Mandarin plays)

HUEY FERN TAY: 'Cats' is the second Broadway-style musical that China has imported and translated into Mandarin.

This production cost $6 million to make. The one before was the 70s themed hit 'Mamma Mia', which was only marginally cheaper. It's all been backed by the commercial arm of the Chinese Ministry of Culture.

But the decision to invest in a brand name musical isn't just about turning a profit, especially in the short-term. The Chinese director of 'Cats' for one sees this as a move to nurture an audience in a side of the arts that is still new in Chinese society.

LIU CHUN, DIRECTOR (translation): We've nurtured a group of actors over 20 years, but there hasn't been enough work for them which means the audience have not had enough opportunity to watch a local musical. We need to establish a following either through local or foreign musicals. And I consider it a success if we manage to get people to walk into a theatre.

(Footage of cast member of 'Cat's applying makeup)

HUEY FERN TAY: That is also why an immense amount of effort has been poured into making sure the essence of the show was not lost in translation.

The script was repeatedly revised after the first draft was completed, and that took three months.

DING ZHENYING (subtitled): It was nearly impossible for me to sing about the character 'Macavity' when I was given the first translation of the song. There was a sentence in English that went something like: (speaking in English)"Macavity's not there". It conveyed a very mysterious feeling but when translated into Chinese initially "Macavity (speaks Mandarin)" this feeling was lost, the meaning broken.

(Footage of Ding Zhenying and cast stretching)

HUEY FERN TAY: People who have a resume like Ding Zhenying are hard to come by.

She was part of the ensemble and the understudy for the character Sophie in the Chinese version of 'Mamma Mia' which is still running in China since opening in mid-2011.

Despite Ding Zhenying's previous role in a major musical, she found it challenging assuming the role of the main character of 'Cats', Demeter. This is because like the 33 other actors she has had little experience combining singing, dancing and acting.

In China, stage actors are trained to specialise in just one skill and there isn't much work available locally, even though one of the earliest introductions of musicals in Chinese drama academies began two decades ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The British director Joanne was not surprised that it was difficult to find Chinese who were good in acting singing and dancing. We searched for actors from Chinese speaking communities from all over the world. We chose 34 people from around the 1,000 or so who auditioned.

(Footage of 'Cats plays)

HUEY FERN TAY: After the last curtain call in Beijing, the cast and crew will move on to other inland and coastal Chinese cities where they will stage more than 200 performances.

In the meantime, the same Chinese producers are working behind the scenes to bring in a suite of other famous musical productions.

It's a costly exercise that will give the current crop of actors opportunities to remain in the local scene. But these productions are probably a long way from generating a loyal following who will support home grown efforts as well.

What they will succeed in is luring more people into theatres across China. And that's a start.
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