This article appears in a small book called "The
LONDON CAT" by James Dosing. It's an interesting, yet curious little thing, seeing that it has no copyright or year of publication printed anywhere. However, it does read 'SUNRISE PRESS, 34
CHURTON ST, LONDON.' I don't know where one can find a copy of this book but I got mine at the Westminster Abbey giftshop.
Article taken from the September 2000 issue of People magazine. [American Publication?]
Cats was a phenomenon.
The show heralded a wave of British-born mega-musicals
that eclipsed America's long domination of the field. It changed the way Broadway shows were sold. It was - and remains - arguably the most famous musical ever made.
"Practically everyone has heard of Cats," says Bill Rosenfield, RCA Victor vice president for shows and soundtracks.
David Letterman and Jay Leno mock it. Sophisticates snigger. But when word spread earlier this year that CATS would close in June, business boomed so much that producers extended the show through the summer.
CATS has been seen by more than 10 million people at the Winter Garden since its October 7, 1982 premiere. Costing $5 million to produce - a record in its day - the show subsequently grossed more than $400 million on Broadway. The show is said to be the biggest generator of income and jobs in Broadway history.
Although nearly 30 million other people have seen Cats in its five touring editions across North America, its Broadway incarnation became a magnet for theatergoers from around the globe.
Reviews were grudging ("If you blink, you'll miss the plot," sniped The New York Times), but fueled by huge advance sales - $.3 million, another record at the time - the show proved an instantaneous success with audiences lured by thrilling reports of director Trevor Nunn's imaginative environmental staging and Andrew Lloyd Webber's glistening music.
Opening in a notable dismal musical season in which every other original tuner flopped, CATS nabbed seven Tony Awards, including best Musical. And as the years went by, CATS evolved into a must-see for sightseers.
"It was a show for the entire family - for people of all ages and all languages," says Philip J. Smith, president of the Shubert Organization, one of the show's major Broadway producers.
British producer Cameron Mackintosh's promotional genius, which sold CATS with a monolithic image of giant yellow cat's eyes and a resonant "Now and Forever" slogan, drew wider audiences than Broadway's norm. Ad dollars were invested heavily in Japan and other countries that sent large numbers of tourists to New York.
"The show marked the advent of marketing Broadway as a destination in itself," notes Jack Viertel, creative director for Jujamycn Theaters.
CATS also was an entirely different musical. Drawn from T.S. Eliot's 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats', a collection of whimsical poems about a motley crew of felines, the dance- driven, dialogue-free show featured only the slightest whisker of a story. The interior of the Winter Garden was transformed into a fantastic junk-yard where furry denizen prowled and played as they awated the Jellicle Ball in which one lucky cat was chosen to have an extra life.
No less an expert than 'My Fair Lady', writer-lyricist Alan Jay Lerner admired Lloyd Webber's music: "The score is remarkably theatrical with one absolutely beautiful song, 'Memory'," he wrote.
Grizabella, the bedraggled glamour cat who sings 'Memory', has provided a juicy role for actresses. Judi Dench was supposed to originate the part but tore an Achilles' tendon late in rehearsals for the 1981 London premiere and was replaced by Elaine Paige.
In New York, Betty Buckley won a best featured actress Tony Award in the role and was later succeeded by the late Laurie Beechman and Liz Callaway, among others.
Terrence Mann, Ken Page, and Harry Groener were also in the original Broadway production. Marlene Danielle, who began as an understudy and graduated to the part of Bombalurina, is the only performer to remain with CATS during its entire run.
But as the song 'Memory' goes, the effect of CATS still lingers on. Rosenfield points to Cirque du Soleil's series of circus spectacles as CATS offspring, while Viertel considers current hits Riverdance on Broadway and Swing as other descendants.
In the newest generation of shows, Disney attractions like The Lion King and Aïda manage to combine a book musical with extravagant physical accouterments. "I think that CATS certainly has broadened the scope of musical theater," says Viertel.
Although CATS is passing here (it remains in London), Rosenfield believes Broadway hasn't seen the last of the show. He predicts a scaled-down version will likely pop up at one of Broadway's smaller musical houses before too long. "Look for it to come back in two or three years," he suggests.
Article edited from original version - Courtesy of Zest magazine written by Michael Sommers; September 10 2000/September 17 2000.