'Cats' will return to Broadway: How well do revivals do on the Great White Way?

The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical 'Cats' will debut on Broadway this August. The show originally began there in 1982.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (center) director Trevor Nunn (l.), and choreographer Gillian Lynne (center r.) pose for photographers with performers in cat costumes in 2014.

Jellicle cats are returning to Broadway.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash hit musical “Cats” will be returning to the Great White Way this summer. 

It will open at the Neil Simon Theatre on Aug. 2. The show originally debuted on Broadway in 1982 and is often remembered for such songs as “Memory” and “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats.”

Mr. Webber, the composer for the show, is also behind such hit Broadway shows as “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Evita.”

This is the first revival for “Cats” following an original Broadway run of almost 20 years, so many theater fans and perhaps some who don’t often go to shows are most likely familiar with "Cats." How do shows that are revivals or are based on existing popular movies or music – material that would be familiar to audience members rather than new music or stories – perform financially on Broadway?

Those who put on Broadway shows think these familiar properties will work, if the current Broadway lineup is any indication. Shows that are revivals or are either based on big movies or on pre-existing music that are on Broadway right now include “Aladdin,” “An American in Paris,” “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” “Chicago,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Finding Neverland,” “Jersey Boys,” “Kinky Boots,”  “Les Misérables,” “Matilda The Musical,” “Misery,” “Noises Off,” “School of Rock,” “Spring Awakening,” “The Color Purple,” “The King and I,” “The Lion King,” and “Wicked.”

These shows obviously far outnumber the productions with original plots on Broadway, which are mostly plays, including “China Doll” and “Our Mother’s Brief Affair.” 

By gross, familiar properties can dominate. In the newest financial data available, “Hamilton” and “The Book of Mormon,” shows that are either original stories or not based on a popular movie or music, appear – “Hamilton” is number one – but the rest of the list of the top five highest-grossing productions of the week ending on Jan. 17 are “Lion King,” “Wicked,” and “Aladdin,” all productions based on well-known movies (“Wicked” is based on “The Wizard of Oz,” in case you haven’t ventured near a theater in the last decade). 

The story is the same with the list of the highest-grossing musicals of all time. “Lion” is the highest-grossing musical of all time, and the lion's share (sorry) of the other top five highest-grossing musicals ever are based on movies or pre-existing music, including “Wicked” and “Mamma Mia!,” which is based on the music of Abba.

Does this mean that only productions that audiences have a prior knowledge of can make a splash? Not so. The musical “The Book of Mormon” is one of the biggest hits on Broadway right now, yet that’s based on original material. The pitch by itself of a musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton probably wouldn’t have raked in the crowds, but stellar reviews have made the show a phenomenon. 

If the word-of-mouth is there, a star can be born.

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