Friday, December 1, 2023

Young performer stepping up for famous feline musical

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Young actor Jorja Panapa is starring in the National Youth Theatre production of CATS. Photo supplied

A talented young east Aucklander is preparing to take to the stage for one of the world’s most famous musicals.

Edgewater College pupil Jorja Panapa is playing the character Jellylorum in the National Youth Theatre (NYT) production of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning show CATS.

It’s on at the Aotea Centre in Auckland CBD from June 23-25.

Jorja, 16, says she loves the sense of belonging she’s found within the cast.

“When I first joined I had no one but myself and one other friend.

“Everything was so new to me but it was just such a welcoming environment I settled in immediately.

“Not only the cast but the team and staff create a sense of security like I’m at home when I’m away from home.”

She says she didn’t know how much passion she had for musical theatre until her first production in 2018, Shrek.

“That was the beginning of this belonging and family I’ve found within NYT.”

Jorja loves her role in the production of CATS.

She says being able to see how it’s all come together and where her character fits into it has given her a “whole new view” on its creation.

“This role has given me the ability to be able to express myself more and really make a stage presence with a character I’ve been developing through the rehearsals.

“Being able to focus on my songs and lines in the musical has to be one of the most enjoyable parts.

“It really adds to that sense of belonging I have not only in the cast now, but in the production.”

She says the biggest challenge is not comparing her own abilities to her fellow cast members.

“NYT is really filled with so many talented individuals who seem to be able to effortlessly do such incredible things.

“Shaking off the sense that I need to be like all of the other leads within the musical has been hard, but they’re such great people that they’ve been the ones slowly helping me see my own talent.”

The theatre’s Shirley Sequeira says CATS is a “spectacular” production featuring a “sparkling fusion of music, dance and verse, and has now taken on a new life for a new generation”.

“With a superb score by Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, breath-taking choreography, stunning costumes and of course the unforgettable [song] Memory, CATS is a magical musical like no other.

“Since its world premiere, it’s been presented in over 30 countries, translated into 15 languages and seen by more than 73 million people worldwide.”

The National Youth Theatre is New Zealand’s premier musical theatre training programme for young people aged seven to 21 years old.

It’s open to all without audition and offers performing arts training including workshops, holiday programmes, and two full-scale musical theatre productions each year with a diverse cast of up to 250 actors.

Tickets to CATS are on sale now. To book, go online to

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