09/25/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
It opened in 1982, when this year's college freshmen were newborns. In 7,485 performances—the most ever by a Broadway show—it grossed more than $400 million and became as much a tourist mecca as a musical.
Nothing is forever, though, not even Cats, and on Sept. 10, as an emotional invitation-only audience watched, Old Deuteronomy waxed wise, Rum Turn Tugger swaggered and, for the last time, a melancholy Grizabella looked up at the moon to sing "Memory." "It feels weird," says Betty Buckley, the Tony-winning original Grizabella, who was seated in the fifth row. "It feels like we went to some major college reunion and our school just got torn down. We all started crying at the end."
Still, for producer Cameron Mackintosh the evening was no occasion for tears. The last performance, he says, "was a wonderful celebration of an extraordinary run. The show went out on Broadway the way it came in—with a bang."
Cats' success was always something of a showbiz miracle. It was, after all, the poetry of T.S. Eliot put to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and performed by actors in leotards and feline makeup. And plenty of critics hissed. "Before it opened," says Mackintosh, "they used to say that Cats was gonna be a dog."
It wasn't. And for diehard Cats fanatics, there is still London. It opened there a year before its U.S. premiere—and it's still going strong.