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LLOYD WEBBER'S `CATS' STILL GOING STRONG AFTER 12 YEARS

"Now and forever."

Turns out it wasn't just an advertising slogan. It was a promise. It was a threat.So, here we are, almost 12 years later, still stuck with Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats." Wednesday's matinee marked its 5,000th Broadway performance, 4,991 more lives than most cats get, want or deserve. And that doesn't count the road-company production, like the one that's headed for the Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles next month.

In terms of longevity on the Great White Way, "Cats" trails only "A Chorus Line," "Oh! Calcutta!" and those games of three-card monty that also dazzle un-suspecting tourists too overcome by the bright lights, sights, sounds and smell of Times Square to know any better.

How big is "Cats"?

Even O.J. Simpson was revealed this week to be a fan.

Linda Deutsch of the Associated Press, one of the pool reporters covering jury selection in Simpson's murder trial, overheard Simpson humming a song from the show before the first jurors were brought in on Monday.

Under his breath, Simpson reportedly sang, "A new day has begun . . . "

Great. His wife and a friend have been brutally murdered. He's facing life imprisonment for the crimes. And he's singing show tunes.

But that's what prison does to some men.

And that's "Cats" for you.

"Cats" is more than a musical.

It's one of David Letterman's favorite punch lines.

It's one good song - "Memory" - and a lot of dry ice.

It's a giant tire that takes off like a flying saucer at the end because . . . well, why not?

And if that tire thing sounds vaguely like the climactic scene in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," know that what goes around comes around. There's talk of a Steven Spielberg-produced animated feature-film version of "Cats," which, if you think about it, would be the perfect companion piece to those "Fievel" mouse cartoons he has done.

Of course, it's easy to make fun of "Cats" - especially if you've sat through it - but it has survived the test of time, no mean feat, and stands as one of the most lucrative and enduring shows ever.

The musical - based loosely, very loosely, on the poetry of T.S. Eliot - made its Broadway debut on Oct. 7, 1982, one week to the day after the television show "Cheers" had its premiere.

Both have proved to be long-running moneymakers, though one was set in a place where a bunch of losers regularly gathered to commiserate and the other was set in Boston. When you think about it, they have a lot in common. Sam Malone was just Rum Tum Tugger with a better hairpiece.

"Cats" is proof that not only is there still a "theater lover" born every minute, but they have disposable income and time to kill to boot.

To date, there have been something like 40 productions of "Cats" around the world, according to The New York Times, and they have grossed more than $2 billion.

That's a lot of kitty litter.

Maybe now they can afford a plot.