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Broadway blockbuster "Cats" closes after 18 years

NEW YORK (Reuters) — In a flourish of fur and song, whiskers and many tears, "Cats," the longest-running show in Broadway history, closed Sunday after 18 years, 7,485 performances and a box office gross of more than $400 million.

The final performance was given to an invitation-only crowd of 1,500, who literally stopped the show midway through the performance with deafening applause after a big company number, "The Jellicle Ball."

"Tonight is the last night of Cats' first life on Broadway," Andrew Lloyd Webber, the man who scored the musical based on T.S. Eliot's book of poems, "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," said after taking the stage following the finale.

The audience, filled with former members of the cast, sang along, shouted encouragements throughout and turned the final performance into a reunion of family and friends.

"There probably never has been such an audience of aficionados, very much like cats indeed," said director Trevor Nunn.

The original New York cast of 36 felines opened the show at the Winter Garden Theater on October 7, 1982. The show is still running in London.

The musical has also been produced in 30 countries around the world and seen by an estimated 50 million people.

Within the New York cast was one original member, Marlene Danielle, who played Bombalurina.

Also in attendance was Betty Buckley, whose career was launched when she played the original Grizabella, the weathered "glamour" cat who gets to go to kitty heaven and be reborn at the end of the show.

"It is wild. It's just great. There is such energy here it is incredible. The (current) cast is crying and just trying to hold it together one last time,'' said former cast member William Park, who played Gus, the Growltiger.

"It's like a family reunion and you just look into someone's eyes and all it takes is two seconds to catch up," Park said.

The show broke new ground with costumes, lighting and staging when it launched in London before coming to New York.

"Cats" then ensconced itself into the drama of the Big Apple, becoming a staple for tourists and, for many New Yorkers, a part of life.

"It started as a curiosity and saw me through some pretty good periods, as well as helped eased pain during bad times," said Hector Motalvo, a computer software salesman from New York who counted this evening's performance as his 703rd. Motalvo's devotion to the show earned him an invitation from promoters.

More than 10 million people saw the Broadway production, according to promoters.

For some standing in the crowds outside the theater, where the yellow cats eyes staring down on Broadway and 50th street have blended into the background, they wondered what the fuss was all about.

"Eighteen years!" said the tourist from Germany, who smacked her cheeks in disbelief. "That's a long time."

The show's producers announced they would close the musical in June. However, ticket demand jumped, causing them to extend the run for 10 extra weeks.

The show's long life brought notoriety as well as derision from critics who loved the inventiveness of its staging, but found the story line thin.

Gold and white streamers billowed down onto the stage in a final farewell after the speeches were done, with Lloyd Webber, Nunn, choreographer Gillian Lynne and producer Cameron Mackintosh surrounded by the current cast and understudies.

The bittersweet festivities moved from the theater to a gala party, with Grucci fireworks, at Chelsea Piers, a sports and entertainment complex along the Hudson River.

But neither Lloyd Webber or Nunn would be in attendance. Both were flying back to London to tend to new projects.

Citing Eliot, Nunn said: "Every end is a new beginning", and translated into Broadway terms, another opening, another show.

Reuters/Variety REUTERS

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