Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Cats,” which became a sensation across Japan when performed by the Shiki (Four Seasons) Theater Company, will be restaged in Tokyo in November for the first time in eight years and the fourth time in the capital since its first Japanese performance in 1983.
The celebrated musical, based on British poet T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” has been staged 5,745 times in Japan, making it the country’s longest-running musical. The musical has drawn some 5.7 million patrons.
The musical’s new run will be performed at the troupe’s newly built theater in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo.
“It is a work for both young and old, and which both men and women can enjoy,” Shiki leader Keita Asari said at a news conference in Tokyo on July 14 on the occasion of Shiki’s 51st anniversary. “There have been many calls for another run in Tokyo.”
“Cats” was first performed in Britain in 1981 and has since been staged in about 30 countries.
“We bet on this work when we were having (financial) difficulty,” Asari said. “It is a masterpiece of the sort that appears once in 100 years.”
His intuition proved right.
Shiki’s first performance of “Cats” in 1983, which took place in a makeshift tent- theater built among high-rise buildings in Tokyo’s Nishi-Shinjuku district, achieved a yearlong run.
After that, “Cats” was staged in Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo and Fukuoka in specially constructed theaters were constructed.
In 1998, Shiki completely changed the costumes and choreography, and began performing the latest version with newly arranged music.
The troupe also successfully performed the musical at public halls in Shizuoka, Hiroshima and Sendai.
“The first performance of ‘Cats’ must have been a big decision and a big adventure,” said an executive of entertainment company Shochiku Co. “But (Shiki management) must have seriously studied the business strategy. My impression is that (Shiki) has been running the performances systematically and taken the initiative in new attempts.”
To launch the “Cats” performance, Shiki introduced Japan’s first telephone booking system in a tieup with an information magazine to sell tickets on a massive scale. This system enabled people to buy tickets from anywhere in the country.
Since then, Shiki has introduced a 24-hour booking system via the Internet and a booking system using mobile phones for members of Shiki Club.
Shiki is also active in sales to schools for excursions, sending about 100 salespeople to visit the nation’s schools.
Two years ago, Shiki formed a five-member specialized school excursion team at its headquarters in Tokyo, attracting more than 300 schools to its performances last year.
Critics say Shiki’s further growth is not guaranteed. The troupe has been unable to catch up with performance increases with an adequate number of talented actors and actresses.
Staff working with Asari ever since Shiki was founded are aging, and there is a shortage of original musicals that can be performed for as long as “Cats.”
However, the country’s recovering economy offers favorable ground for the troupe, critics say.
Beyond the remake of “Cats,” Asari aims to work on a strong original musical.
“I would like to stage an original musical on Broadway,” he said.