Ladies and gentlemen, today I share to you one of my most favorite stage thespians. I bring you…LITTLE DOVE. Oh, and all images and videos, unless indicated, are not mine, just to make it clear. Also, this was written circa 2006, just so you know. However, I’ve been updating it from time to time and adding images and links 🙂
CAT OF A FEATHER
Truth be told, there isn’t much to be said about Veerle Casteleyn… Uh, let me rephrase that—there isn’t much info available about this li’l lady, not even in the whole, wide world of the web. Any true-blue Veerle-fan knows that.
Her First Catwalks
Veerle Casteleyn was born in Vlaanderen, Belgium on March 6, 1978. ‘Veerle’ is Flemish for ‘feather’, which appropriately describes her to a ‘T’. Figuratively speaking, of course. Lithe and graceful on her feet, it’s no wonder. After all, Veerle is a dancer first before actress and singer, with quite a credible resumé in dancing tucked under her belt. She is a sweet/light soprano and wonderful actress. A fantastic all-around thespian…
[Ed. ‘Veer’ is said to actually mean ‘feather’ in Dutch, based on some research. Meanwhile, ‘Veerle’ is said to mean ‘travel to battle’ or ‘battle traveller’. In some ways, an individual maybe considered a battle traveller so Veerle may very well be one anyway. I still do prefer to liken Veerle to a light feather.]
Her official foray in the performing arts really started when she began training as ballet/jazz dancer at the Municipal Institute for Ballet in Antwerp, Belgium. She performed in “Joint Venture”, “Initiate”, “Fanfare”, “The Three Musketeers” and “Self-Made”. More roles came after school–an orphan in “Annie”, Liesl in “The Sound of Music”, Sylvani a.k.a. Jemima (meaning ‘little dove‘) in “CATS the Musical” (she played the role both in the Antwerp and a London production), and more roles as understudy.
In 2002, she successfully played the role of Julia in “Romeo en Julia: van Haat tot Liefde” (R&J), the Belgian production of, well, you’ve guessed it by now. That was her first-ever lead role, complete with a CD release of the show’s songs where you can hear her sing, and believe me, as you will later find out, her voice before was and still is a subject of much debate.
What Curious Cats Ought to Know
To those not familiar with Veerle, she is actually best-known (so far) as Jemima, the cute kitten in Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s (ALW) “CATS The Musical” video, whose wisdom is far beyond her years; the kitten that made Veerle famous (to musical-lovers, at least). On second thought, Veerle made Jemima famous. Though she was first played by the great Sarah Brightman (best-known as the original Christine Daaé of “The Phantom of the Opera”, another ALW masterpiece), Jemima had always been a minor role and was not at all that noticeable until Veerle came along and immortalized her on video.
Veerle was only about 19 or 20, the youngest in the whole ensemble in fact, when she joined the film production. She would later play Jemima on a more regular basis in the West End, as well as do swing parts (a swing is like a bit player) and, more impressive, Victoria the White Cat and Rumpleteazer as an understudy. These two latter roles should tell you how great a dancer Veerle really is. After all, both require superb dancing skills and “Energizer”-charged moves. Not to mention, playful with a sensual flair. Vicky alone always gets to display her dancing prowess, often taking center stage.
ALW had to choose the best performers for the roles, especially since the show was to be shown in another form. Jemima’s role called for a “little, young thing with a wonderful, wide-open face” and Veerle was definitely IT. (See her in the video below smiling so sweetly with Jo Bingham who played Etcetera at 0:29-0:31, then choreographer Gillian Lynne is talking about her as you see her at 1:00-1:09).
(This is the CATS 1996 Begian Dutch production trailer. Veerle was a part of it, probably how she was discovered.)
(Below, you’ll see her all over the video having her whole look done for the movie.)
(Now watch her duet with the great Elaine Paige…)
Many viewers get enthralled upon seeing her sweet face and large, expressive eyes during her solo parts. Maybe it helps that she is, indeed, a lovely girl with an unusual charm even sans makeup. However, any other lovely girl would have been hard-pressed to pull it off the way she did in the film. Veerle obviously knew how to work it and project what needed to be projected. Besides, she was not all-face, too. She was the shortest but she wasn’t short in talent at all. She proved to be one of the giants, holding her own against or alongside other great talents like John Partridge (as Rum Tum Tugger) and Phyllida Crowley-Smith (as Victoria).
(This was the first-EVER video that I saw of her online WITHOUT the cat makeup…I was so excited!!! I forget what year that was, but the Internet wasn’t like how it is now, so it was not easy finding it. In fact, I think somebody just shared it in the forum that I joined in. Very short interview clip, but very dear.)
This Cat’s Meow
Undoubtedly, it is her duet with the Great Elaine Paige who reprised her role as Grizabella, that often leaves the biggest mark in most viewers’ mind. Paige is obviously way up there in the superstar department, having amazingly sung the most original version of ‘Memory’. Still, perhaps, part of the charm of the said duet is “Veerle’s” singing voice…
Now is the time when I have to address the issue of dubbing. In the credits, you will read somewhere that Jemima’s singing voice was dubbed by Helen Massey [Ed. The link leads to a video where somewhere, Helen explains how she came to be the singing voice of Jemima]. That is correct. The long-standing issues here have been: “Why was Veerle dubbed?” and “Didn’t she sing anything in the film?”
The why has been answered time and time again! It wasn’t because she couldn’t sing, but due to her strong accent at the time of the filming that affected her English. At least, that’s what we heard from the grapevine. Veerle may not be the greatest soprano around, and maybe she was pretty raw back then, especially with no formal voice training, but she delivered. Quite convincingly, in fact. As for the second question, it has not been properly addressed yet. Nevertheless, we who have seen the film more than we should can say that she actually did sing in many parts of the video. Where exactly? I will leave the fun of finding it out to you.
(This was Veerle back in 2008, performing live onstage for the Dutch CATS The Musical. I think she’s the one we first hear based on the voice and the line she sang in the movie. Fast-forward to the 1:30 timestamp to hear her longer)
(Not yet sure? Here.)
[Ed. HERE is a quick audio of her as Rumpleteazer. Meanwhile, CLICK HERE and HERE to hear her sing in “R&J” — these are my fave of hers from that musical, her first real recording as lead ever, though the voice is really raw. But I think that’s exactly what made her perfect for the role of a young and naive protagonist. She sang in seven songs. Meanwhile, I found her discography as well.]
As I said, Miss Feather made Jemima, so much so that when the movie was released, the wide-eyed, innocent-but-wise li’l kitty was a big hit. Soon, the movie’s off- and on-line release posters and ads featured Jemima holding a “CATS” DVD, etcetera. Why not Grizabella? Or Old Deuteronomy? Or Munkustrap? Or Rum Tum Tugger? Or any of the major roles? The answer may have been “Why not Jemima?”
Jemima is also easily remembered now. The girls love to imitate her and wish they look like her, cat or not. The boys mostly drool at her (especially those who look for and find her unmade-up countenance). Let’s face it. She is easily one of the most beautiful cats in the show, if not the most, ’cause that, of course, depends on taste.
Let the Cat Play
Moving on…Post-“CATS”, Veerle did several plays/musicals onstage again. As mentioned, she did the London production. Then it was in various other productions for her as she toured UK/Europe, The Netherlands and her home country, Belgium: “Carousel” (as Louise in the UK tour),“A Little Night Music” (as Fredrika on the Netherlands tour), “R&J” (Belgian production…another girl acted for The Netherlands tour), “Fiddler on the Roof” (as Chava…great solo ballet sequence, I’m sure), “Alleen op de Wereld” (as the adult Remi), “Dracula” (as part of the ensemble), and “Mamma Mia!” (ensemble).
She didn’t always get the major parts. But that’s show business. Veerle knows that. Meanwhile, she also found time to make her TV debut in an episode of the police show “Flikken” (‘Police’, in the Sporen episode) as Elke de Brock, rape victim. Then she became part of the short-lived courtroom drama “De Wet Volgens Milo” (‘The Law According to Milo’) (2004-2005) as law firm intern Sonja who’s “youthful enthusiasm and ambition often gets her into trouble” (this is a loose online translation of the info I found on the show’s site).
If that wasn’t enough, some people reported spotting Veerle in a commercial somewhere, but they’re just speculations. Meanwhile, as far as I know, aside from singing in the “R&J” soundtrack, she recorded at least one song (again, as far as I know for now) that had solo parts for the “Alleen op de Wereld” soundtrack (CLICK HERE).
(See her in “Romeo en Julia — van Haat tot Liefde” at 8:42-8:51, so do a fast-forward thing. Had to find the best vid that clearly shows her especially with Davy)
(Her guest starring role in “Flikken”, ‘Sporen’ episode. The subtitles are still in Dutch, though Just find a decent translator.)
[Ed. Just sharing the link. Will embed once I am able.]
(Very short clips from the TV show she was a part of…Is it me or does somebody love mixing reddish shades and blue?)
The Cat of a Feather
Veerle knows she has yet to make a bigger mark to be really called famous, despite the fact that she indeed achieved semi-superstar status with a still growing number of fans scattered all over the globe. She has achieved something that most performers still only dream of. Yet, swell-headed she is not.
Ironically, this girl is a very shy individual in person, embarrassed by the amount of attention given her. Perhaps, too, she feels the pressure of living up to what people expect from artists they admire, or it’s possible she simply does not like being admired for her looks alone. Veerle has actually expressed surprise and bewilderment by all of this. She is so unassuming to the point of being unintentionally private; thus, we only have what little more personal information about her we have. This, by the way, does her real good. Stalk her not, please.
It has been proven several times that she isn’t a snob either. Veerle might be private, but she is definitely not a snob. Though the instances are few, accounts of her have been made, not any of them negative. Not yet. Hope not. If you’re lucky, she just might recognize and surprise you by linking arms with you at the parking lot (that is, if her shyness does not get to her first). She may visit your forum and leave a message even if only once.
She may meet up with you if she knows you’ve come all the way from across the globe just to watch her in a show, which dialogues you don’t understand anyway. Or she may spend even just a bit of time chatting with you online.
That is provided that you…
(1) will understand she types slow, being admittedly not-so-techno- and Net-savvy.
(2) won’t go borderline creepy and scare her away.
And of course, ambush photo shoots with fans, that’s a given…
That’s about it when it comes to getting a bit more glimpse of what Veerle is. And oh, did I tell you she has a very nice, curvy penmanship?
Cats Sometimes Take a Bow, Too
At present, as of this writing, Veerle is already preparing—or maybe already rehearsing—for the role of Electra for this year’s Dutch production of “CATS”. Yes, you die-hard Veerle-fans, I hate to be the bearer of a really-not-so-“bad” news, but she isn’t playing Jemima. Veerle opted not to do her, a personal decision. [Ed. See update after this article.] I am not surprised. One can only do a routine role so much. She said it herself, she wants a new challenge.
Veerle Casteleyn may still be ‘a kitten still wet behind the ears’ (sorry, I just like saying that), but one thing is definite–this cat is not going anywhere but up! Kitty heaven, here she comes!!!
Copyright © J.Gi Federizo
UPDATES: Veerle has since done the Dutch “CATS”, as reported she would do, and I gave a link to a vid somewhere above. She was a swing member doing…
“…(1st cover for Electra, 1st cover for Sylvani aka Jemima, and 2nd cover for Victoria). She took over the role of Jemima full-time in the summer of 2007. ‘CATS’ premiered in Rotterdam in October, and toured the Netherlands until October 2007.” (Wikipedia)
Then she did “Les Miserables” (ensemble), “Oliver!” (ensemble/Charlotte) and “Musical Droomvlucht” (ensemble). From what I found out, she worked or works (not sure if she still does–dunno if it was a one-time deal or what) as a choreographer for Diluna Dansstudio. She choreographed their 2013 “CATS” musical, as can be seen below. They are the ONLY publicly published pics of the ever-elusive Veerle I’ve found from them. There’s not even a mention of her there except on NieuwsBlad.be. (I did find more pics of her related to the project, and since they are posted publicly, I will share on Facebook.) On the caption, she was said to be a top choreographer, so I am hazarding a guess that she’s been doing choreography these past years.
I am most probably right as I recently found proof of it. Someone else originally discovered the information and privately shared it to me. I did more research and can now confirm that she has been teaching classical dance to the youth somewhere. I won’t mention the school, though. There’s even a business email address that I dare not write to — don’t want to freak her out. I know she’s still there because she’s still listed as a teacher. There was another photo of her before, which was just recently changed, too. Common sense says that she’s still there (as of August 2021). It is. actually, an open secret. You’ll find the information if you look hard enough.
If I were Dutch or Belgian, I probably could actually find her. We think we also found a real social media account. I’m pretty sure it’s the real deal, based on my investigations. She’s really kept everything very private, you won’t exactly see a thing on her own page to confirm anything. Besides, it seems inactive. If it is her real account, she probably won’t want it shared to the public unless it’s a fan page. So forgive me if I don’t share it. Please don’t ask for it from me even secretly. I intend to honor my promise to the sharer and especially to respect Veerle’s privacy. If people start flooding her inbox with messages, she could guess I gave her away — I don’t want her to hate me.
We did try our luck by sending private messages to her, but..well, we know our Veerle. I just told her it’s okay and I’m just happy to have found her. Anyway, let’s just see if she attends the premiere of the new CATS movie. My guess is she won’t be there, but I’ll let her surprise us 🙂 [Ed. She wasn’t there. No surprises there, really. Pretty sure there was no invite, too. We were just keeping our fingers crossed.]
You can actually find the above same article as The Veerle Essay, posted with my permission, at the Unofficial Veerle Casteleyn Fansite, which is owned by a fellow fan. There’s a mention of a certain “Gracie” as author — that’s me.
You see, I wrote this first for my Multiply blog years ago, and around the same time, I joined the Steven’s Veerle Forum, which I believed to be already inactive for years. But I found out the “new” one, VeerleForum.com , and registered. The old became inactive not because it had a few active members but due to technical problems (won’t go into details anymore). I had been a fan a few years before the writeup.
If you’re looking for more updated info, based on my current research, as I keep saying, not much has been found out about her in later years, which saddens me a bit. I’ll continue my research, though. Do let us know of any new information about Veerle. You’ll be compensated with a lot of virtual hugs, kisses, and heartfelt thank-yous!
BY THE WAY, I just created a Facebook page. Feel free to join us at THE VEERLEDOM! I am finding more information and pictures that I will share there.
Lastly, just to let you know, this is my “L” post for the A-to-Z Challenge (so that explains the title more, hee…).