Amy Whittle’s “Cats” journey began four years ago, when she auditioned for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. She joined the production on the ship Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas where she played Jennyanydots the Gumbie Cat.
Whittle has performed in “Cats” touring productions in Hong Kong, China, Europe and now Manila, for the limited season brought here by GMG Productions. She’s also played swing and has understudied Jellylorum, Grizabella, Tantomile and Cassandra, but Jennyanydots is the role she keeps returning to. “She’s a tap dancer, a character actress cat,” Whittle said. “She’s one of the soprano cats.”
“I am obsessed. I don’t think I will ever enjoy being in anything as much as I do ‘Cats,’” Whittle said of the record-breaking musical, which was based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” and is one of the longest-running shows on West End and Broadway.
“The extreme of everything I’ve been training for since I was 3 years old is in this show. There’s nothing like it.”
“Cats” cast members are triple threats: they act, they sing, they dance. The actors do their own makeup, too.
Whittle said, “You get a couple of sessions with our amazing makeup supervisor Karen Dawson who designed the makeup all those years ago. She teaches you how to do it. Then it’s literally just practice.”
Whittle gave Lifestyle an exclusive look at her transformation process backstage at The Theatre at Solaire.
“Jennyanydots is one of the older cats. The older cats have a few more markings just to show they’ve been through the mill. Younger kittens are more fresh-faced,” Whittle said.
Dawson created a unique look for each cat. Jennyanydots is a ginger cat so Whittle began with a white base and some orange makeup which she blended.
She set the makeup with powder before painting on Jennyanydots’ quirky eyebrows. Her long lower lashes can be tricky to draw, said Whittle. She does her cat nose with great care, too. “It can’t be too big because then it becomes a dog nose.”
Then she drew on the muzzle and the whiskers, five on each side. “She’s a happy cat. She has bits that come up so she always looks like she’s smiling.”
She also painted on tufts of hair and black and brown stripes on Jennyanydots’ face. Whittle said, “There’s a song about Jennyanydots and the lyrics go ‘Her coat is of the tabby kind with tiger stripes and leopard spots.’”
Whittle is glad her character doesn’t need to wear fake eyelashes like some of the girl cats do. The final step for her is putting on red lipstick.
The wig goes on next. The “Cats” wigs, which are made of yak hair, are very expensive.
Wigs are pinned to make sure they don’t move during the performance. Whittle also glued the lace sides to her face.
The whole process takes about 40 minutes. Taking off the makeup is much faster, she said. “We just use coconut oil and then it’s gone.” Wigs are washed after each show.
The actors need to be precise with their hair and makeup because the cats go into the audience during the show. “They will see everything,” Whittle said.
Keep the magic
There’s a rule for “Cats” actors—once their wigs go on, they’re fully cat. They cannot speak anymore. “Cats sing, they don’t talk,” said Whittle.
Company manager Terri Baker said, “After watching the show, my 4-year-old nephew said to me, ‘Where do the cats sleep at night, Auntie Terri?’ You want to keep that magic.”
Whittle has been enjoying her time in Manila. “Everyone here is so friendly. The Manila audience is amazing because they’re fully engaged and you can see that they’re with us and they get it. And they’re very respectful and lovely.”
We asked Whittle what she’d like to say to Filipinos who have yet to see the show. “There’s something in it for everyone. It’s just quite the spectacle. And there’s a very special bit we’ve put in for the Filipino audiences. It’s a surprise.”
“Cats” runs at The Theatre at Solaire until Dec. 1. ticketworld.com.ph.