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‘Cats’ By Whisker On Broadway Passes ‘A Chorus Line’ As Bright Lights Leader

Fri., June 20, 1997

It’s purring right into the record books.

With Thursday night’s performance - No. 6,138 - “Cats” overtook “A Chorus Line” as the longest-running show in Broadway history.

After nearly 15 years and counting, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical continues to live up to its advertising slogan of “now and forever” at a time when big musicals with huge operating costs have fallen out of favor.

More than 8.25 million people have seen the Broadway production, which opened at the Winter Garden Theater on Oct. 7, 1982. It has taken in more than $350 million at the box office since then, though in recent years it has become an easy target of stand-up comics who make fun of it as pure tourist fare.

Worldwide, the musical, based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” has been seen by more than 50 million people in 42 productions that have grossed over $2.2 billion.

“‘Cats’ appeals to everybody: Little kids love the movement and the fun, grannies and grandpas like the spiritual side of it, and lovers, young and old, like the uninhibitedness of the show,” said Gillian Lynne, the musical’s choreographer and assistant director.

The show arrived in New York after scoring a huge success in London. An avalanche of publicity, particularly about the remodeling of the Winter Garden to accommodate the extensive scenery, helped sell the show on Broadway.

While not the first show to use television advertising, the musical was aggressively marketed by its producers, who put the show’s simple logo, a pair of yellow cats’ eyes, on TV, in print ads and on the backs of New York buses. The logo even became a souvenir of sorts, showing up on T-shirts, baseball caps, beach blankets and refrigerator magnets.

For Lloyd Webber, the success of “Cats” brought more than just pots of money.

“This show changed me more than anything I had written,” the composer said Thursday. “I had other hits like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Evita’ but had always been the silent partner, usually letting (lyricist) Tim Rice speak for us. Now, all of a sudden, I was the very visible one.”

The celebration comes at a time of increasing financial difficulty for Lloyd Webber. He said last week that the Really Useful Group, his London-based production company, would lose as much as $16 million during its current fiscal year.

The composer has been plagued by a series of recent ill-fated stage ventures, including various money-losing productions of “Sunset Boulevard.” His newest musical, “Whistle Down the Wind,” collapsed in Washington last February on its way to Broadway. A reworked version is expected to be done next June in London.

Will the “Cats” long run hold?

“Records are made to be broken,” said producer Cameron Mackintosh.

Tags: Theater

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