By Lori Bosworth
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats opens in Toronto at the Panasonic Theatre on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. The second longest running show on Broadway had a long run in Toronto beginning in 1985 at the Elgin Theatre. The new production features an all-Canadian cast including Ma-Anne Dionisio as Grizabella, the aging cat. Dionisio’s most recent role was Kim in Miss Saigon, relaunched in Toronto in 2010 and has played Maria in West Side Story at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. I had an email interview with Dionisio to discuss her upcoming role in Cats:
LB: You seem to be attracted to tragic, star-crossed female roles or perhaps they have found you i.e. Éponine, Maria, Kim and now Grizabella. Can you identify with any of these female characters?
MD: I think they’re attracted to me. I do my best to find something in each character that I can relate to. That’s always a good starting point when trying to discover a new character and also helps, as an actor, to play them truthfully.
LB: I understand you immigrated to Winnipeg from the Philippines when you were a child. What was the hardest adjustment you had to make?
MD: I was 15 nearly 16 when we moved. So most of my childhood was spent in the Philippines. Apart from the obvious cultural adjustment that our family had to experience, there was also the environmental one. We moved in January. We literally went from 37C to -37C! The skin on my hands literally cracked. Ow!
LB: How did you prepare to play the part of a cat?
MD: My daughter was very concerned when she found out I was doing the show. “You can’t do cats. You’re allergic!” she exclaimed. I personally know nothing about cats, the animals or the show. I am an empty canvas for both Dave Campbell and Gino Berti to work with. I come prepared with an open mind and an excited willingness.
LB: What’s the most challenging aspect of playing Grizabella?
MD: So far, I would have to say finding her physicality would be the most challenging. Then there’s the added layer of finding her truth within that physicality.
LB: On paper, a musical about cats might not seem to appeal to everyone. What do you think it is about this play that has resulted in its unprecedented success?
MD: I couldn’t tell you. I have never seen the show. What I can tell you is that when I saw the company run the first act for the first time the other day, it was thrilling for me to watch. This company is so full of talented performers, that it’s difficult for me to not be inspired and the first time the other day, it was thrilling for me to watch. This company is so full of talented performers, that it’s difficult for me to not be inspired and humbled by the ease in which they all share their craft. And that’s without make-up, costumes, lights, and sets, that all complete the whole theatrical experience. I can hardly wait to see it all!!!
LB: Do you have cats at home? What do you think humans can learn from cats?
MD: No cats. I’m allergic.
Cats opens at the Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, on June 11, 2013; performances begin on May 28, 2013. Tickets may be purchased online at Mirvish.