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Release: Nov. 19, 1999

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Accompanying this release is a sidebar about a group of statewide interactive educational workshops at Hancher featuring the "Cats" cast and crew on the Iowa Communications Network. More than 50 schools in all parts of Iowa have already signed up to participate in the most ambitious ICN program ever staged at Hancher.)

'Cats,' history's longest-running musical, returns to Hancher

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "Cats," the longest-running musical in history both on Broadway and on tour, will return to the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium for eight holiday-season performances -- at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, Dec. 7-10, and at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 11 and 12.

Based on poet T.S. Eliot’s "Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats," "Cats" has become the most popular family musical of all time, treasured for its memorable music, remarkable feline costumes, spectacular special effects and high-energy Broadway dancing. The production’s awards include the Laurence Olivier and the Evening Standard Award for Best Musical in London and seven Tony Awards in New York.

John Simon wrote in New York magazine, "You will enjoy scenic effects to elate you, stage (and auditorium) movement to keep your eyeballs rolling every which way, talented players galore to thrill you, and sundry cunning devices to keep you eagerly expectant, with your expectations almost always astonishingly gratified. There is something for everyone -- even dog lovers -- in ‘Cats’: a kind of whiskered Disneyland full of sound and furry. You cannot help experiencing surges of childish jubilance, as cleverness after sleek cleverness rubs against your shins!"

Linda Winer predicted in USA Today, "‘Cats’ probably will run forever!" And so far she has been right. "Cats" has been a fixture at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway since 1982. When "Cats" broke the Broadway record in mid-1997, a New York Times headline proclaimed "Cats" the show "with 6,138 lives." Five months later in Minneapolis, the Fourth National Touring Company surpassed the original tour of "Oklahoma" to become the longest-running tour in history. The combined tours of "Cats" had surpassed the record for longest-touring show several years before.

In 1989 the original production of "Cats" in London became the longest-running musical in the history of British theater, surpassing Lloyd Webber’s own "Jesus Christ Superstar."

"Cats" tours have visited more than 250 cities worldwide, and Iowa City is one of more than 160 cities in the United States and Canada that have hosted the show more than once. Tour attendance of "Cats" has now surpassed 10 million in North America alone. In addition, the show-stopping song "Memory" has now been recorded by nearly 200 artists.

Nearly forgotten in all the record-setting success is the fact that "Cats" began as a daring venture, both artistically and financially. The idea to turn T.S. Eliot’s book of verse "Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats" into a musical occurred to Lloyd Webber in 1972 when he picked the book up in an airport bookshop. Reading it in-flight, he recalled that as a child his mother used to read these poems to him and the thought occurred that "they might make a lovely album for Children . . . or something."

But a full decade passed before the project was even seriously explored. Setting poems by a serious, intellectual poet was considered an odd choice for a pop musical. Investors were difficult to attract, and failure was predicted. "We had almost everything going against us," Lloyd Webber says.

Lloyd Webber recalls being warned early in development of the production that half the world loathes cats, to which he replied, "I would be happy to play to half the world." He hasn’t quite reached that mark yet, but total worldwide attendance is now more than 60 million.

Tickets for "Cats" are $49, $45 and $40. UI students and senior citizens qualify for a

20-percent discount, and tickets for children 17 and younger are half price. Tickets are still available for all performances, but the best selection of seats is available for the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evening performances.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, and 1 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Audio description for audience members with visual impairment will be available at the 8 p.m. performance on Dec. 11 and the 2 p.m. performance on Dec. 12.

The Coral Ridge Mall and the City Plaza Hotel-Iowa City are the major local corporate sponsors of "Cats," through the University of Iowa Foundation, with additional media support from the Gazette.

More information about "Cats" is available at the show’s World Wide Web site: <>. For information on all UI arts events, visit <>.