NEW YORK -- "Cats," Broadway's longest running show, has become as much a "Memory" as the song that was its most persistent refrain.
After a nearly 18-year run, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical closed with a roar Sunday at the Winter Garden Theater before an invited audience of friends and fans.
They cheered, screamed and even cried during an emotional, confetti-strewn final performance -- number 7,485 -- that was interrupted by several standing ovations.
"Tonight is the last night of 'Cats' first life on Broadway," Lloyd Webber said after the exuberant cast and orchestra players took their bows. "So I wouldn't get too excited. I don't quite know what the fuss is about."
Lloyd Webber, who wrote the show's music, was applauded as soon as he entered the theater and before the house lights dimmed. The most applause? For "The Jellicle Ball," a big dance number near the end of the first act, which received the night's longest standing ovation, literally stopping the show.
"It's possibly difficult for you to realize here," Lloyd Webber told theatergoers after the final curtain. "'Cats' was already a big hit in advance before we came to New York, but in London, it was a huge, huge risk. People don't believe this but we opened with quite a lot of our capital missing. The only thing I will say is musical theater has got to continue to take risks."
Among the people called on stage by Lloyd Webber were director Trevor Nunn, choreographer Gillian Lynne and producer Cameron Mackintosh. As they waved goodbye, a shower of yellow, white and silver confetti filled the theater, covering the cast and still-applauding theatergoers.
"Cats" was based on "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot. The St. Louis-born poet was praised by Nunn as "the greatest English and American poet of the 20th century and who was my unwitting collaborator in writing the words for 'Memory' -- probably unwillingly, if he had known."
The poems by Eliot, who died in 1965, also provided the lyrics for the other numbers in "Cats."
"Memory" is sung in the show by Grizabella, the musical's faded glamour cat. Betty Buckley, who was the original, watched Linda Balgord sing her signature number Sunday night.
Now for the first time since 1982, the Winter Garden, one of the few Broadway theaters actually on Broadway, will be dark. Yet there will be one more "Cats" event in the house. Next Saturday, props, costumes and other mementos from the musical will be put on sale in a giant theatrical garage sale.
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