Today in History (1982): ‘Cats’ Makes Its Broadway Debut

At an astounding 7,485 performances, the popular musical “Cats” currently holds the distinction of being the second longest running musical in Broadway history!

Photo via FLASh

Renowned British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber based his award-winning musical on the book of poems “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot published in 1939. The musical first premiered at West End’s New London Theater on May 11, 1981, and was produced by Cameron Mackintosh with Trevor Nunn at the helm.

Cast members of the original London production. Photo via Wikipedia

On October 7 a year later, “Cats” opened at the Winter Garden Theater in Broadway. It had the same creative team as the West End’s, and by June 19, 1997, it became Broadway’s longest-running musical with 6,138 performances. “Cats,” which staged its final performance on September 10, 2000, had this honor for about nine years until another Webber musical “The Phantom of the Opera” clinched the top spot in 2006.

Director Trevor Nunn with some of the original Broadway cast members. Photo via Tripod

Meanwhile, “Cats” held its last performance on West End exactly 21 years after it premiered. It had a total of 8,949 performances, making it London’s longest running musical up until 2006 when Claude-Michel Schönberg’s “Les Misérables” surpassed its record. Now, “Cats” is West End’s fourth.

“Cats” is a two-act musical that opens on the night the cats of the Jellicle tribe gather for the “Jellicle choice” – that is, when their patriarch Old Deuteronomy selects the feline that will be reborn into a new life on the Heaviside Layer. It features a large ensemble with the most prominent character being Grizabella, once a “Glamour cat” who now takes on a shabby appearance due to her old age. Actresses Elaine Paige and Betty Buckley took on the role in the original London and Broadway casts, respectively.

1) Elaine Paige and 2) Betty Buckley as Grizabella. Photos via Letra Media and Papermag

In 1998, “Cats” the movie was televised worldwide, as well as released on VHS and DVD. Actors from the original London and Broadway casts reprised their role here, including Paige and Ken Page (West End’s Old Deuteronomy).

Cast members of the film adaptation. Photo via Wikipedia

Among the songs in the “Cats” repertoire, “Memory,” which was sung by Grizabella, is the most popular. Here’s a video clip from the movie that features Paige and Belgian thespian and ballerina Verlee Casteleyn as Jemima. However, Casteleyn’s voice was said to have been dubbed by Helen Massie due to her accent.

Video via YouTube

The original London production received the prestigious Laurence Olivier award for Best New Musical and Outstanding Achievement in a Musical in 1981. Meanwhile, the Broadway production was honored at the Tony Awards in 1983 for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Buckley), Best Direction of a Musical, Best Costume Design, and Best Lighting Design. Since its debut, “Cats” had been translated into more than 20 languages and had been staged in different cities across the US, South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.

All information in this article were sourced from Playbill and the Wikipedia pages for Cats the musical, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, and Cats the film.

Like this article? Check out more stories from our Today in History series in the Lomography magazine!

written by chooolss on 2013-10-07 in #lifestyle #today-in-history #cats #old-possum-s-book-of-practical-cats #andrew-lloyd-webber #t-s-elliot

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