In 1982, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical first wowed New York

Cats (1998 movie)

Even now, 15 years later, it seems ridiculous. A musical about what? Indeed, when the cacophonous, mewling overture to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s dance musical first rattled New York’s Winter Garden Theatre on Oct. 7, 1982, few observers could have predicted how many lives Cats would have.

Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the $4 million spectacle (a smash in London since May 1981) yanked Broadway away from Rodgers and Hammerstein once and for all. Amid rock-concert lighting and a junkyard set, leotarded actors preened, pranced, and pretended to lick themselves. ”I don’t think the press understood it at all,” says Cats choreographer Gillian Lynne, now 71. Indeed, the musical became a running gag everywhere from the Letterman show to the 1993 film Six Degrees of Separation.

For all the snickering, Cats has become a perennial tourist attraction — and, as of June 19, the longest-running Broadway show ever. The climactic number, ”Memory,” recorded by Barry Manilow and later Barbra Streisand, became a standard; the show’s Broadway take now tops $335 million, and its worldwide gross (in 29 countries) surpasses $2.2 billion. A home-video version wraps in London on Oct. 2, and five other productions are doggedly playing from Hamburg to San Francisco. Finicky critics notwithstanding, Cats still purrs along.

October 7, 1982

A LITTLE DITTY about ”Jack and Diane,” by rocker John Cougar, does the best it can — topping the singles chart for the first of four weeks. Cougar (right) will buck his handlers a year later and reinstate his real surname, Mellencamp. AUTHOR SIDNEY SHELDON is Master of the Game with his epic bodice ripper set among the diamond mines of South Africa; in 1984 CBS will air a top-rated nine-hour miniseries version starring Dyan Cannon. His newest novel, The Best Laid Plans, becomes a best-seller in September 1997. MOVIEGOERS LIFT An Officer and a Gentleman up where it belongs. In a minor role: David Caruso, who would later star in ABC’s NYPD Blue and, this fall, CBS’ Michael Hayes. ALMOST TWO YEARS after Dallas‘ ”Who Shot J.R.?” episode became the highest-rated show in history, the Texans remain TV faves. Many of the Ewings — with Charlene Tilton notably absent — will reunite in 1996 for the CBS movie Dallas: J.R. Returns.

Cats (1998 movie)
  • Movie
  • 120 minutes