How do you sing "meow" in Chinese?
How do you sing "meow" in Chinese?
Zhang Yan

SHANGHAI - Two weeks ago Cats, the legendary musical with its record $2 billion box office sales and worldwide audience of 73 million people, had its Chinese language premiere in Shanghai. This will be followed by a tour of 162 performances in other major Chinese cities.

Following the success of Mamma Mia!, Cats is the second Chinese adaptation of a musical promoted by United Asia Live Entertainment (UAE). Mamma Mia!, which is currently on its second tour of China, set a record of 191 consecutive performances on its first tour last year and earned 850 million RMB ($134 million) at the box office. 2011 went down as “The First Year of China’s Musicals.”

Whereas Mamma Mia! is a warm family comedy, Cats is much more abstract since its plot is based on T.S Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” a poem, and it has almost no dialogue.

In addition to understanding the screenplay, the actors need to have excellent physical fitness and staunch willpower. “We have uninterrupted rehearsals sessions from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily with costume and makeup on. The dancing is even harder than on Mamma Mia!” says Mao Haifei who plays the role of Quaxo in Cats after dancing in last year’s version of Mamma Mia!.

Not only are the actors required to maintain the posture and the look of cats all through the musical, but they also have to dance non-stop for 150 minutes in various styles: classical, jazz, pop and rock.

Chinese versions

Whether it’s Mamma Mia! or Cats, the Chinese versions follow the “Original production team plus Chinese actors” format. The copyright agreement alone has hundreds of pages of densely written text specifying each deal. UAE has signed respectively with the owners of the two musicals -- Little Star and Really Useful, both UK companies -- a contract of five years. The costs of the first-round performances are borne by the UAE but are underwritten by local entertainment companies on the second round.

Tian Yuan, the general manager of UAE, does not hide his ambitions for musicals in China’s domestic market. "We are the first ones in China to produce musicals professionally. Mamma Mia!’s Chinese version was our initiation. We are hoping to find a mode of localized musical production, finance and local talent. We’d like to found our own theater, performing groups, and have our own originality."

“A Chinese version makes it easier for the Chinese audience to be fully integrated into the story. The use of Chinese language and Chinese performers draws the audience closer to the show," Tian Yuan says. In Mamma Mia!, local Internet buzzwords are deliberately added to highlight the localization. In the Shanghai premiere of Cats, one of the roles, the "aristocratic cat," said “goodbye” in Shanghainese on stage, attracting the audience’s laughter.

The costs of an original version and a Chinese version differ greatly. The original version of Mamma Mia! introduced in 2007 with 16 performances over two weeks cost 15 million RMB ($2.36 million) in operating costs, whereas its Chinese version costs 30 million ($4.72 million).

“I have a five-year performance cycle to digest this cost. The first year we staged nearly 200 performances and we won’t do less than 100 performances per year from the second year. In total there could be 600 performances in five years," Tian Yuan says -- though he does not disclose any specific figures for royalties.

During the musical production process, the many castings as well as the rehearsals are all subject to the requirements of the UK companies. The attention to details is astounding.

"These foreign firms very much hope that we are able to quickly learn all the aspects of the entire production links and process, and do it 100 percent,” Tian Yuan explains. "These musicals are not "Made in China," but "Chinese versions' and the quality must be guaranteed so that whether it is in London, Germany, Russia, South Korea or Japan, the audience sees the same quality. Only good quality will sustain good vitality.”

Bringing a Chinese touch

Jo-Anne Robinson has worked on both the Broadway and the West End version of Cats for 30 years. Today she is directing and choreographing the Chinese version. She explains that right from the start of the creation there is a blueprint. The music, dance and acting are all planned out in accordance with this blueprint.

“Nevertheless, Chinese actors are not carbon copies. They need to bring richness to each cat in accordance with their own understanding of the musical,” she says.

The Chinese version has the most cats on stage since its creation, a total of 34. The Broadway version has only 24 to 26 cats.

The people working on the Chinese version were particularly concerned about the adaptation of the Cats theme song, Memory. Music director Fiz Shapur says that, "Taking into account the Chinese syllables, phonology, and in particular the tones, is very difficult. The slightest mistake will cause ambiguity.”

The biggest challenge lies in finding the right cast. “There aren’t many actors in China who can act, dance and sing. Besides, it’s rare to find among the few who meet the basic requirements someone who has any experience in musicals,” Fiz Shapur points out.

However, after seeing the passion of Chinese audiences for Mamma Mia!, the Chinese version of Broadway musicals looks destined for great success. When the familiar tune of ABBA’s Dancing Queen started, almost all the audience got up and applauded with excitement. They waved their arms, whistled, screamed and jumped up and down. The boundary of the stage is blurred and the theater becomes a venue for a giant party. One does not see this often in reserved China.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never.

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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