With Cats' ninth and final life on Broadway expiring the second weekend in September, nostalgic and celebratory instincts are starting to kick in. The final, by-invitation-only performance will be followed by a "Jellicle Ball" party for 1,500 people to be held at Pier Sixty along the Hudson River. A Grucci fireworks display will cap the evening. The second-to-last performance, Sept. 9, will be a benefit for the Actors' Fund, while the third-to-last (that day's matinee) will have an audience filled with alumni from the show's past 18 years.
"Anyone who has worked on a production of the show in the U.S." is invited to attend the Sept. 9 matinee, according to an Aug. 10 release from the Bill Evans & Associates press office. Roughly 1,000 actors, stagehands and crew have taken part in the show over the years. Alumni are invited for both the show and an 11 AM-1 PM brunch at the Marriot Marquis hotel.
As for the Sept. 9 evening benefit performance, the show starts at 7 PM. Ticket prices range from $125 to $75. In addition, a limited amount of partial-view box and on-stage seats will sell for $50-$125.
Fund shows are intended for the performers’ peers in the entertainment industry. Tickets are available by calling (212) 221-7300 or 1-800-386 3849, ext. 133/134.
After Cats has exhausted all its lives, there's still more prowling in store. Several costmes, set pieces, and the original conductor's score will go into the Smithsonian Institution. Also, on Sept. 16, 10 AM-6 PM, the Winter Garden Theatre will hold a "Garage Sale," auctioning off Cats props, costumes and other memorabilia. Yes, the tire will be up for grabs, as will Railway Cat train pieces and various window cards. The $10 admission and all proceeds will go to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Other bits of memorabilia will be available for sale via Amazon.com starting Sept. 12. Call (212) 840-0770 for further information. *
When Cats closes Sept. 10, according to production spokesperson Bill Evans, the musical will have run 7,485 regular performances.
In mid-February, the producers of Cats told the world the musical would close June 25, after 7,397 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre. An outpouring of media coverage, fan sentiment and heightened ticket sales ensued. Since the announcement, in fact, grosses have regularly leapt past the $500,000 per week mark, with the week ending Aug. 20 a case in point ($667,066 -- at 99.3 percent of seating capacity). Cats was therefore given an extra eleven weeks to live, with the Sept. 9 evening show the last available to the general public, and the Sept. 10, invitation-only show the last ever. The current Grizabella is Linda Balgord, and Rum-Tum-Tugger is played by Stephen Bienskie.
According to production spokespersons at the Bill Evans press office, Cats sold $4.7 million worth of tickets in the month following the closing announcement. Said one spokesperson, "We really did feel it was going to close, but as you can see by the figures, people have been going and going and going. We've been doing close to sell-out business. It didn't make sense to close."
At this point there are no plans to bring back star players from the show's history for return visits runs, and are expected to stay on the prowl through the summer.
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 $388 million and played to more than 10 million people.
In its February story about the closing, the New York Times quoted Andrew Lloyd Webber spokesperson Peter Brown as saying, "Obviously, I am sad that Cats has to close on Broadway, 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.
The Winter Garden Theatre was renovated to suit Cats' unusual set. The house will likely undergo a renovation before hosting another production. Cats' extension will certainly delay that renovation, not to mention any fall production that may have been planned for the Winter Garden (rumors on The Street had Kander and Ebb's The Visit as the likely next tenant).
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.