Though spokespersons have been denying the death knell for several weeks, the Broadway musical Cats will close June 25, after 7,397 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre.
A seven-time Tony winner (including Best Musical), Cats opened October 7, 1982, and, on June 19, 1997, passed A Chorus Line as the longest-running Broadway show of all time. According to the Bill Evans press office, the show has grossed more than $383 million and played to more than 10 million people.
(Cats fans hoping to hear the very last "Memory" or savor the final bump and grind by Rum Tum Tugger may also be out of luck; a Playbill staffer attempted to purchase tickets for the three shows on June 24 and 25 and was informed by a box office spokesperson (Feb. 20) that those final performances are not on sale to the general public.)
As late as Feb. 18, a spokesperson for the Nina Lannan general management office told Playbill On-Line, "We're not going anywhere... There's no scoop here." However, in recent weeks the show has dipped well below the $300,000 weekly gross mark, making it the target of widespread speculation that it would not survive its 18th year. "Ticket sales had been disappointing," spokesperson Evans told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 22).
News of the shuttering has boosted the production's coffers, however; in the two days following the closing announcement, Cats has grossed $460,000, according to spokesperson Evans. (By contrast, for the week ending Feb. 13, Cats had grossed only $275,627.) "It's been phenomenal," he said, stopping short of saying whether continued high ticket sales might extend the show's longevity. In its story about the closing, the Times quoted Andrew Lloyd Webber spokesperson Peter Brown as saying, "Obviously, I am sad that Cats has to close on Broadway at the end of June, but it is also a day of great celebration," he said. "Eighteen is a great age for a cat."
Perhaps the most unlikely of all juggernaut musicals, Cats has as its librettist poet T.S. Eliot. Composer Lloyd Webber adapted Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" and, with Trevor Nunn's direction, the show's famous junkyard set design and extraordinarily detailed make-up and costumes, as well as Gillian Lynne's occasionally audience-interactive choreography, the musical became a favorite of families and tourists. In later years, the show became something of a Broadway dinosaur, sneered at for its odd plot (a prostitute cat dies and is lifted to heaven on a hydraulic tire), lack of memorable tunes ("Memory" excepted, of course) and its sheer, almost ludicrous longevity while critically-embraced musicals came and went. On the other hand, Cats probably introduced more children to theatre than any other production in history and provided hundreds of chorus singers and dancers with years of steady work (in interviews, Liz Callaway, a many-time Grizabella, made no bones about calling the show her meal ticket). The show's original cast recording won a Grammy and sold more than 2 million copies. x
The Winter Garden Theatre was renovated to suit Cats' unusual set. The house will likely undergo a renovation before hosting another production.
Of course, New York is not the only town Cats has prowled. The show began its road schedule in December 1983 -- a tour that didn't end until the fourth national company closed in Lansing, MI, Dec. 19, 1999. The show became the longest running tour in American theatre history Nov. 18, 1997, surpassing Oklahoma!, and reaching its 5,000th performance milestone July 7, 1999 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At the time, it was said that a scaled-down tour would again hit the road in fall 2000, but there is currently no further word on that.
Across the world, more than 50 million people have seen Cats -- to the tune of $2.5 billion -- in such countries as Iceland, Korea, Belgium, Spain and Hong Kong. The still-running London production, which opened May 11, 1981 at the New London Theatre, is the country's longest-running musical.
Cats remains Broadway's longest running show, now -- but just maybe -- not forever.