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"Cats' withdraws its claws; show closes

"Now and forever" is here and gone.

Cats, Broadway's longest running show, hung up its whiskers, tails and toe shoes Sunday after nearly 18 years and a record 7,485 performances.

Cats, which has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot, who, though he died in 1965, received a Tony Award 18 years later for his contributions to the score.

Cats began the dominance of the big British musical on Broadway, an influence that has started to slip _ Miss Saigon also will close New Year's Eve _ but may never fade away.

"Remember, two others _ Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera _ are still with us," theater historian Ken Mandelbaum said. "And one, if not two, may eventually pass Cats in longevity. Phantom only has six years to go."

Over the years, the musical became the show people loved to hate, with everyone from Letterman to Leno making fun of its pop score, lavish setting and those furry creatures crawling all over the stage and the audience.

Still, audiences came, singing Memory, the show's most persistent melody, sung in the show by Grizabella, the musical's faded glamour cat, who climbs in the show's final moments to "the heavy-side layer," a feline version of heaven.

Cats went out with a roar rather than a meow.

The show originally was to have closed June 25, but a surge in ticket sales led to an extension. For much of the summer, it was one of Broadway's highest-grossing shows, often operating at more than 90 percent capacity and pulling in grosses of more than $550,000 a week as tourists and die-hard fans flocked back.

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