(Update: in 2019 this statement was certifiably proven to be true.)
Cats is based on a collection of poems written by a man often regarded as the greatest poet of the 20th century, T.S. Eliot. The collection, titled Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, seems an unlikely source for a live-action musical, yet the success of the show quickly disproved any doubt that such a task could be accomplished.
The opening meow in the long history of the success of Cats occurred on May 11, 1981 at the New London Theatre in London’s famed West End. Concern over the potential for making a hit musical out of an obscure collection of a poems by a notorious difficult to understand poet was compounded when Judy Dench, the original Grizabella, was injured and had to be replaced by Elaine Page.
Cats debuted in Broadway on October 7, 1982 at the Winter Garden Theatre. That night would begin a string of performances that would not come to an end until June 19, 1997 after 6,138 performances. That record would would be surpassed by Phantom of the Opera in 2006, and Cats remains the second longest running musical in the history of Broadway.
The composer of Cats is Andrew Lloyd Webber who also happens to be the composer of Phantom of the Opera, thereby making him responsible for the two longest running musicals in Broadway history. Webber has claimed that his inspiration for writing Cats came about as the result of Eliot’s collection of poetry being a favorite of his when he was a child. Cats was the first musical that Webber wrote without having a lyricist; instead he simply put Eliot’s original verse to music.
All of the characters in Cats are cats. Human actors wear extravagant makeup and costumes to complete the illusion. The main characters are Grizabella, a former Glamour Cat fallen on hard times due to age; Rum Tum Tugger, a sexy tomcat; Munkustrap who acts as the narrator, and Macavity, the villlain of the show.
In addition to being an enormous commercial success, Cats was also a critical success. The original production was nominated for eleven Tony Awards and won seven. Among the awards that Cats won were Best Director, Best Featured Actress (Betty Buckley), Best Original Score, Best Book for a Musical, and Best Musical.