Napier began designing the set in November 1980, wanting "a place where cats might congregate together, which also included maximum room for dancing". The set of Cats consists of a junkyard filled with oversized props to give the illusion that the cast are the size of actual cats; it remains the same throughout the show without any scene changes. Over 2,500 of these scaled-up props were used to fill the whole auditorium in the original Broadway production.
To aid with navigation and sensation, cats have dozens of movable whiskers (vibrissae) over their body, especially their faces. These provide information on the width of gaps and on the location of objects in the dark, both by touching objects directly and by sensing air currents; they also trigger protective blink reflexes to protect the eyes from damage.:47
Cats is based on T. S. Eliot's 1939 poetry book Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, with the songs in the musical consisting of Eliot's verse set to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The musical is unusual in terms of its construction; along with Eliot's poems, music and dance are the main focus of the show at the expense of a traditional narrative structure. Musicologists William Everett and Paul Laird described Cats as "combining elements of the revue and concept musical". The plot centres on a tribe of cats called the Jellicles, as they come together at the annual Jellicle Ball to decide which one of them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer (their version of heaven) and be reborn into a new life. The bulk of the musical consists of the different contenders being introduced, either by themselves or by other cats.
Public attitudes towards feral cats vary widely, ranging from seeing them as free-ranging pets, to regarding them as vermin. One common approach to reducing the feral cat population is termed 'trap-neuter-return', where the cats are trapped, neutered, immunized against diseases such as rabies and the feline Panleukopenia and Leukemia viruses, and then released. Before releasing them back into their feral colonies, the attending veterinarian often nips the tip off one ear to mark it as neutered and inoculated, since these cats may be trapped again. Volunteers continue to feed and give care to these cats throughout their lives. Given this support, their lifespans are increased, and behavior and nuisance problems caused by competition for food are reduced.
Cats debuted on Broadway on 7 October 1982 at the Winter Garden Theatre with a record-breaking $6.2 million in ticket pre-sales. Most of the original creative team remained, with Martin Levan replacing Jacob as the sound designer and Stanley Lebowsky replacing Rabinowitz as music director. The musical was co-produced by the original London production team, along with David Geffen and The Shubert Organization. It was the most expensive Broadway show ever mounted at the time with a production cost of $5.5 million, though it recouped its investment in less than 10 months. On 19 June 1997, Cats overtook A Chorus Line to become the longest-running show in Broadway history with 6,138 performances. At the time, the musical was found to have had an economic impact of $3.12 billion on New York City and had generated the most theatrical jobs of any single entity in Broadway history. A June closing date was announced in early 2000 but was subsequently pushed back after a resulting surge in ticket sales. The show closed on 10 September 2000 after a total of 13 previews and 7,485 performances. One actress, Marlene Danielle, performed in the Broadway production for its entire 18-year run. Its Broadway-run record was surpassed on 9 January 2006 by The Phantom of the Opera, and Cats remains Broadway's fourth-longest-running show of all time. Overall, the original Broadway production grossed approximately $388 million in ticket sales.
The Late Latin word is generally thought to originate from an Afro-Asiatic language, but every proposed source word has presented problems. Many references refer to "Berber" (Kabyle) kaddîska, 'wildcat', and Nubian kadīs as possible sources or cognates, but M. Lionel Bender suggests the Nubian term is a loan from Arabic قِطَّة qiṭṭa. Jean-Paul Savignac suggests the Latin word is from an Ancient Egyptian precursor of Coptic ϣⲁⲩ šau, 'tomcat', or its feminine form suffixed with -t, but John Huehnergard says "the source [...] was clearly not Egyptian itself, where no analogous form is attested." Huehnergard opines it is "equally likely that the forms might derive from an ancient Germanic word, imported into Latin and thence to Greek and to Syriac and Arabic". Guus Kroonen also considers the word to be native to Germanic (due to morphological alternations) and Northern Europe, and suggests that it might ultimately be borrowed from Uralic, cf. Northern Sami gáđfi, 'female stoat', and Hungarian hölgy, 'stoat'; from Proto-Uralic *käďwä, 'female (of a furred animal)'. In any case, cat is a classic example of a word that has spread as a loanword among numerous languages and cultures: a Wanderwort.