A Farewell to Cats & Feline Facts
Date: 6 May 2002
The world's longest running musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, retires this week after 21 years in the West End. We look back over two decades of broken records, box office smashes, foreign language translations & a truly global phenomenon.
This Saturday, 11 May 2002, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats both comes of age and meows out. On the 21st anniversary of its original opening, the West End production will give its last-ever performance. And so comes to an end the global phenomenon which, since 1996 has held the record for the longest-running musical on the both sides of the Atlantic.
An unlikely hit, Cats is based on the 14 poems of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot, set to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose score includes now-classic songs such as "The Jellicle Ball", "Old Deuteronomy", "The Magical Mr Mistoffolees" and, most notably, "Memory".
In addition to its longest-running accolade, Cats also holds a critical place in musical theatre history as being a catalyst for the remarkable partnership between composer Lloyd Webber and producer Cameron Mackintosh, who today are two of the most powerful figures in international theatre. Though the two no longer work together, their productions - which have also included The Phantom of the Opera - have enjoyed huge success around the world.
In honour of the closure of Cats, we've gathered together a few trivia titbits that you may not have known about this remarkable musical. If you have other feline facts or memories that you'd like to share, please do post them on the Whatsonstage.com Discussion Forum.
Broken Records & Awards
The original production of Cats opened at the New London Theatre in the West End on 11 May 1981. Directed by Trevor Nunn and designed by John Napier, the cast featured Elaine Paige, Brian Blessed, Paul Nicholas, Wayne Sleep, Sarah Brightman and Bonnie Langford. On 29 January 1996, the London production celebrated its 6,141st performance and became the longest running musical in the history of West End theatre.
Cats opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on 7 October 1982; on 19 June 1997, the show became the longest running musical on Broadway. It continued to live up to its motto of playing "Now and Forever" for 18 years, until 10 September 2000.
On 1 October 1991, Cats became the longest, continuously touring show in American theatre history. The Cats four US tours have thus far played a combined total of 16 years and two months.
The awards that Cats has won include: the 1981 Laurence Olivier award for Musical of the Year, the Evening Standard award for Best Musical and seven 1982/83 Tony awards including Best Musical, the much-coveted Molière Prize for Best Musical in France, seven out of ten Dora Mavor Moore awards including Best Musical in Canada and seven awards in Japan. Although TS Eliot died in 1965, he was awarded a Tony Award posthumously for his contribution to the musical.
In London alone, Cats has had nearly 9,000 performances, grossed £136 million where it has been seen by more than eight million people. Worldwide, Cats has taken in excess of $2.5 billion and been seen by over 50 million people.
Around the World
Since its 1981 premiere, Cats has been presented in 26 countries and over 300 cities, including such diverse destinations as Buenos Aires, Seoul, Helsinki and Singapore. Within two and half years of the London opening, there were productions in New York, Tokyo, Budapest and Vienna, and the first of tour US touring productions had hit the road.
Cats has been translated into ten languages: Japanese, German, (three versions for Germany, Austria and Switzerland), Hungarian, Norwegian, Finnish, Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish (two versions for Mexico and Argentina) and Italian. The Swiss production required a bilingual cast who performed in German and English on alternate nights.
The title of the show has never been translated. The Mexican producers did a survey as to whether the Mexican audience would like their production to be called Gatos - the response in favour of keeping the English original was unanimous.
The show has not only been presented in theatres, but also in a tent in Japan, an engine shed in Switzerland and school gymnasiums across the US.
While current productions of Cats replicate the original show as closely as possible, there have been exceptions to this rule. Most notably, the Norwegian production placed the action in an attic, the Swedish production placed it on the rooftops and the Finnish production chose a setting best described as "futuristic".
To date, the soulful ballad "Memory" has been recorded by over 150 artists including Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Shirley Bassey, Elaine Paige, Betty Buckley, The Three Tenors and Liberace. Barry Manilow's rendition was a top-40 hit in the US. A techno/dance version by European singer Natalie Grant topped the European dance charts in 1999.
The Original London Cast Recording of Cats won the 1982 Grammy Award for Best Cast Album. The next year the Original Broadway Cast Recording won the same award.
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