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