Brits on Broadway

'Cats' sets a record , the handsome new Prime Minister is chez Tina and the Princess shimmers at her dress sale. It's a swell party for New York, and Kissinger jaws through it all. By Reggie Nadelson
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The Independent Online
''Darling, you must meet the original Rum Tum Tugger!" Cries of "Darling" and "Sweetheart" echoed up and down Broadway at sunset last Thursday. Andrew Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn and many dozen, many score of cats, the performers (there have been 231) assembled to celebrate Cats, the musical, which on Thursday became, after 6,138 performances, the longest- running show in Broadway history, I mean talk about memories! For the finale that evening, Lord Lloyd Webber sat down at a midget piano on stage and sang the one tune that had been cut from the original show, "Cat Morgan introduces Himself". It was nice. But, then, I like Cats.

It was Brits on Broadway on Thursday and Brits off most of the rest of the past week, still the hottest immigrant group in town since Boss Tweed ruled Tammany Hall. British media queens are now so famous that, on occasion, even real people, recognise them by their first names alone, referring to Tina Brown, editor of The New Yorker and Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, as Tina and Anna, as if they were royals. Or models. Even New York's chicest new hairdresser is British, more or less; Irish, anyhow. John Barrett, it is rumoured, did Cherie Blair's hair for Tina's dinner for the Prime Minister on Sunday and Princess Diana's hair for the Christies party on Monday, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

So many Brits; so little time. Hard to tell if this was the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning of the second British invasion, the invasion of the mediabrits, the Tinas and Annas, their underlings and colleagues, who came and stayed, who took over the magazines and publishing houses, who danced at the Reagan White House in the Eighties and joined the Labour Party (long distance) for the Nineties.

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THURSDAY

Broadway shut down for Cats. There was a gala performance at the Winter Garden Theater where, as I said, Rum Tum Tuggers embraced Grizabellas and Mr Mistoffeleeses air-kissed, and Trevor Nunn posed for paparazzi looking not a day older than when Cats opened in 1982.

"Darling!"

Mayor Giuliani declared that, in New York, it was Cats Day, and no wonder: Cats has, one way and another poured $3.12bn into the New York economy (mostly from tourism) and $195m in taxes, but then this was an occasion for Fat Cat statistics: that "Memory" has been recorded by more than 180 artistes; that the New York production of Cats has sold 130,000 sweatshirts; that 19 cast members have died since it all began in 1982. (Worldwide the statistics are even more awesome - the musical has grossed more than $2.2bn) Some say that Cats is merely a money machine, that Cats, and Lloyd Webber with it, somehow ruined Broadway, that somehow the British invasion, musicals division (mostly meaning Lloyd Webber) wasn't up to par. Frank Rich, the one-time all-powerful New York Times theatre critic (now turned columnist), felt compelled to rush, yet again, into print last week to tell us how Lloyd Webber Disneyfied Broadway before Disney got hold of it, that it was Cats that first delivered the "theme park, tourist oriented spectacle as a Broadway commodity", as if Ziegfeld never existed, and anyhow, who cares?

At the party after the show, I looked at all those cats eating and drinking and I thought, when we're all dead and buried, us and the politicians, the royals, the critics, someone out there is gonna be humming it: "Memoreeeeeeee ..."

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SUNDAY

I didn't see Henry Kissinger at Cats. Maybe he was reflecting on Pol Pot, maybe not. He was everywhere else, though and no one seemed to mind really that Henry the K talked all the way through Tony Blair's speech at the Tina Brown dinner for the Prime Minister. The "private dinner" (I never quite know what private means when we're talking heads of state), the private dinner took place in the new Tina Brown multi-million-dollar apartment she shares with Mr Brown, aka Harry Evans. Evans, head of Random House, the publisher, is of late, it is said, a passionate devotee of New Labour.

The real question, though, was would Tina Brown become British ambassador to Washington? Would Harry Evans be New Labour's "Culture Czar", although candidates for "Culture Czar" seemed to be lined up now from mid-Manhattan to the Groucho Club.

It was very very hot and the rumours were hotter still. No, Tina Brown did not want to be ambassador. No, President Clinton did not want her for ambassador either because, some whacko alleged - and talk about really wild rumours - it was felt by the White House that she was not especially friendly to the Irish, having turned down an invitation to a state dinner for Mary Robinson.

Late in the afternoon, a spectacular summer storm broke over New York. The Blairs, flying in from Denver and the G7 summit, were delayed. At the Brown-Evans, the assembled had to wait for at least an hour. People mingled. John Kennedy, Jr, did not show. Nor did Steven Spielberg. There were some journalists and novelists, a speechwriter, assorted mediabrits at least two literary agents and a restaurateur. Angelica Houston and Lauren Bacall did for glamour. It got late. Anyone who wanted to eat could eat, said Harry Evans. People looked at the salmon. It looked nice.

Meanwhile, John Prescott and Clare Short (Who? WHO? muttered a few Americans) imported from Britain, a little like the salmon, held the fort.

Eventually, the Prime Minister and Mrs Blair did arrive chez Brown and Evans. A group of Labour supporters had been herded into an ante-room where the Blairs were taken first and where they greeted their people. Then they joined the party. Then Blair made a speech (and Kissinger talked through it). Blair said how boring the G7 summit in Denver had been, too much bureaucracy, he said, the implication being that next year, when the G7 is held in Birmingham, it will be a lot better. It will have to be a lot better, being in Birmingham and not Denver.

The party over, a lot of New Yorkers were disappointed not to have caught a glimpse of the handsome new Prime Minister. No town likes celebrity as much as New York, especially if it looks good; this is where the tickertape parade was invented. But one of the requirements for real celebration New York style is that we all get to have a look.

People would have liked it a lot if in New York the Blairs had gone for a walk, seen a show or a ballgame or just dined out with the Mayor and his missus. For just a handshake, New York would have thrown itself at the feet of a Prime Minister. For a Prime Minister who took an interest in the city, in its musicians and politicians, lawyers and artists, teachers and actors, New York would have gone the max.

Instead, Tony and Cheri show up, go to dinner with the usual suspects and the dinner barely makes Monday's papers. "Such a cute guy," a friend said referring to the Prime Minister. "Maybe he'll come back and see us some time."

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MONDAY

Kissinger is present again at Christies for a cocktail party in honour of Princess Diana and the dresses that will be auctioned there for charity.

In the evening, Kissinger enters the room chewing gum. He does not seem especially interested in the burgundy velvet dress with the embroidery or the green satin.

Even before the event starts at six, there is a crush on the sidewalk, a line around the corner, a stack of photographers six deep. Many of the New York ladies who have turned out to view the Princess are dolled up, manicured and pedicured, buffed and shined and lacquered and, therefore, not a little miffed at having to wait in the street. Jenny Bond, the BBC court correspondent, meanwhile patrols the perimeter in a little yellow outfit.

Eventually, we are allowed in. At the head of the stairs is the woman who organised it all, Meredith Ethrington-Smith, a force of nature in basic black with a pink tulle flower pot for a hat on her head.

There are whispers that Anna and Tina are somewhere in a private room as if Christies were a velvet rope nightclub with a VIP lounge, but it's just another rumour. A wall of women dressed to the nines, punctuated by men in suits, roams the rooms where Diana's dresses are displayed, all of them, the chiffon and velvet, the silk and sequins, the burgundy and green and black and white.

The fashion folk are out in force, Bill Blass here, Arnold Scassi there, Carolyne Roehm. Jessye Norman, the opera diva, is fabulous in pale blue. There are plenty of TV people and reporters and standard issue Brits, and there are, of course, the X-rays. The New York society women, so skinny you can look clean through them, wear tiny dresses and skinny sandals; one woman has ankles so thin I wonder if she can stand up unaided. A band plays. The Perrier Jouet flows. Waiters bearing trays pass the canapes which include many varieties of white bread sandwich filled with tomatoes or cucumbers, chicken or smoked salmon or, as someone exclaims, "luncheon meat".

None of it matters. There is only one point to the party, one reason everybody's anted up 250 bucks (anyone who paid could come) which, along with the profits from the dresses, will go to Aids and breast cancer research. Suddenly she appears.

In the middle of a protective little group of friends and security men, the Princess appears and the crowd moves towards her. She drifts around greeting people, smiling, shaking hands. She is tall, blonde, and athletic. She wears a pale skinny glittery sheath and high heels. As the party goes on, you glimpse her from time to time. She seems to bob along in the middle of the mob of people, like some jewelled object passed from hand to hand.

"I met her, I met her," an American friend says later. "I looked up and she was there and she just smiled and said 'hello' so I just said, 'what a swell party this is.'"

Fashion, The Tabloid, page 10

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