In mid-February, the producers of the Broadway musical Cats told the world the show 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 May 7 a case in point ($635, 639 -- at 96.9 percent of seating capacity).
Well, fans have voted with their wallets and purses, and Cats will prowl on for another eleven weeks, closing Sept. 10 after 7,485 performances. (The Sept. 9 Saturday night performance, by the way, will be a special benefit for the Actors' Fund. The final performance, Sept. 10, will be by invitation only.)
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 the current Grizabella (Linda Balgord) and Rum-Tum-Tugger (Stephen Bienskie) 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 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. 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.