''Cats'' arrives on Broadway
In 1982, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical first wowed New York
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
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