At the Cats gala (clockwise from top left) Andrew Lloyd Webber at center stage; ex-Cats Terrence Mann, Ken Page and Harry Groener; the lit sign atop the Winter Garden marquee; Laurie Beechman beside the podium. Photos by Starla Smith
On that night the odd coupling of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and poet T.S. Eliot surpassed A Chorus Line to become the longest running show in Broadway history. Webber told a crowd gathered in front of a shut-down Broadway in front of the Winter Garden Theatre, "As someone who, as a child, loved musical theatre and American musical theatre . . . more than anything -- for something like this to happen to me is extraordinary."
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani presented the creators and producers a proclamation that June 19 was Cats Day in New York.
To mark the event, director Trevor Nunn and choreographer Gillian Lynne polished up the company for a special gala performance, to which were invited many of the actors who had appeared in the show over the years. Spotted in attendance were Betty Buckley, Ken Page, Harry Groener, Terrence Mann and Cynthia Onrubia, among many others.
Punctuated repeatedly by applause from this very supportive audience, the performance ran nearly 20 minutes overtime. Among highlights: when Rum Tum Tugger (David Hibbard) plucked a member of the audience to boogie with, the person he picked was -- choreographer Gillian Lynne.
Grizabella (Laurie Beechman) appeared close to tears during her rendition of "Memory." Every time Bombalurina (Marlene Danielle) came downstage or even sang a solo line, it drew wild applause -- she's been in the show since opening night. Several moments stopped the show, including the fast final section of "Jellicle Ball," the acrobatic turn of "Mister Mistofelees" and of course the flight up to the Heaviside Layer that brings the show to climax in Act II. There was special laughter and applause on the line in "Gus, the Theatre Cat," when Gus murmurs "The theatre is certainly not what it was."
A final reprise of "The Ad-dressing of Cats" was added to the end of the show, and all the previous Cats were invited to rise and sing along, which at least 100 did.
In the applause that followed, the Cats were joined on stage by Lynne, Nunn, and finally Lloyd Webber himself, who hushed the crowed and gave a speech acknowledging those who helped bring him to Broadway (including the late Tyler Gatchell and Bernard Jacobs) and helped introduce him to the material that became Cats. He singled out choreographer Lynn for her work, which he said was "ahead of its time. In a sense, this is your night," he told her.
Webber thanked Eliot's family not only for allowing him to use the poems contained in "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," but also to adapt from other Eliot works, especially "Rhapsody for a Windy Night," in writing the show's added material, particularly "Memory."
Webber said part of the success of the show is owed to "the quality of the language and verse we were able to dip into."
Webber then startled the crowd by saying he was going to play a song written for Cats, but dropped: "Morgan, the Cat of the Door" (also listed as "Cat Morgan Introduces Himself") named for a puss at Eliot's publisher, Faber & Faber. Webber then sat at a piano that had been moved center stage and in a cockney accent he apologized was "as bad as Dick Van Dyke's" began "I once was a pirate what sailed the high seas. . .," and the last lost Jellicle finally joined its fellows at the Winter Garden.
He concluded to great applause, especially from the assembled cats and ex-cats. Waving the downbeat with his fist, and prompting, "And we all say. . ." Webber then led the crowd in singing "Mister Mistofelees," during which the cast, followed by the creative team, poured out of the Winter Garden Theatre onto a raised platform erected earlier that day on Broadway, which had been blocked off for the ceremony.
Shubert Organization Chairman Gerald Schoenfeld and Mayor Giuliani read brief speeches, Schoenfeld hailing the gathering, saying "with tonight's performance, Cats is now the longest running show in the history of Broadway."
The ceremony concluded with a laser light show tracing out the history of Cats in green laser beams on the huge Cats billboard on Broadway between 50th and 51st Streets, and roman candles burst over the marquee.
For a scrapbook of features, photos, trivia and related Cats material, see the special Playbill On-line Cats section All Our Cats Features.