Randy Rum Tum Tugger gave his pelvis a last few thrusts, the giant boot flopped into the alleyway one last time, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer executed their last calisthenic tumbles, Macavity wasn't there for a final caper, Old Deuteronomy chatted with his last youngster, and Grizabella warbled her last "Memory." The invited guests filed out -- off to a celebratory party most of them, to enjoy speeches, glasses raised, fireworks across the water, and a last goodbye. Then silence.
What else can there be after a Broadway show runs nearly 18 years, more than three years longer than the nearest competitor? What's left after 7,485 performances, seven Tonys, and the distinction of having been seen by more than 10 million people? Even critics who hate the show, even pundits who've watched the production's original style and vision become dated in comparison to two decades' worth of new musical frontiers, even producers who've prayed for flashy mega-musicals to ease their stranglehold on big theatres so a new stream of productions can have a place to play, even audiences who come out of the Winter Garden Theatre thinking, "so that was it?" -- all are no doubt feeling a little sad today, a little in awe, a little crestfallen that a chapter of Broadway lore has been sealed and tucked away:
Cats has closed. And Broadway will never be the same.
The final performance, held 6 PM Sept. 10 for an invitation-only audience, was not appreciably different from a typical Cats night, though sustained applause greeted certain lines that had extra resonance owing to the occasion. "Is there anyone who's never heard of a Jellicle cat?" drew a wave of knowing laughs, while Gus' lament that "The theatre is not what it was," also earned an ovation. Brief speeches by the Shubert Organization's Gerald Schoenfeld, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn and Cameron Mackintosh followed the show, with bursts of confetti filling the stage and seats at the finale. Schoenfeld recalled his late business partner, Bernard Jacobs, saying, "Now and forever, Bernie." Both Schoenfeld and Lloyd Webber paid tribute to late executive producer R. Tyler Gatchell, Jr., with Webber recalling how big a risk mounting Cats on Broadway initially seemed: "People don't remember this, but we opened with a lot of our capital missing," Webber said. "Musical theatre has got to keep taking risks."
A special commemorative Playbill was issued for the night, its cover featuring the famous cat eyes with a dancer in them -- this time with a tear drop falling from the right eye. The Playbill also listed the names of every cast-member of the run, as well as a separate list of actors in the show's history who have since passed away.
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. 27 a case in point ($659,056 -- at 97.8 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, 6 PM, 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."
Major theatre renovations will follow the shuttering, with the Abba-based musical Mamma Mia! already booked to open at the renovated Winter Garden Oct. 18, 2001.
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."
Not that Cats is disappearing without a big loud meow. 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, was a benefit for the Actors' Fund, while the third-to-last (that day's matinee) had an audience filled with alumni from the show's past 18 years. (Roughly 1,000 actors, stagehands and crew have taken part in the show over the years.)
After Cats has exhausted all its lives, there's still more prowling in store. Several costumes, 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.
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 (rumor has it the Rattlestick Theatre Off Broadway will get some of the seats).
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.
So Cats is no longer now and forever. Why, if Les Miz or Phantom keep going for another half-decade, they may even usurp its long-run record. But will there ever be again such an oddball mix of the artsy and glitzy, the experimental and commercial, the sexy and family oriented, the spunky and sentimental, the earthbound and metaphysical, the boring and thrilling, the hated and wildly beloved? A show that is so ingrained in the collective memory?
At midnight, a new day did begin, but surely, the memory will live again.