Less than 15 years after it opened in London's West End, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats became the longest running stage musical of all time.

When the curtain went up for the 6,141st time, the story of the Jellicles - a tribe of magical and mischievious nocturnal cats - surpassed Broadway institution A Chorus Line to become the most successful show in either of the world's theatre capitals.

The show - an adaptation of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, a book of children's verse by American poet TS Eliot - had claimed the West End record in 1989, when its 3,358th performance saw it eclipse another Lloyd Webber hit, Jesus Christ Superstar.

Andrew Lloyd Webber with a Cats cast member

Cats had opened at the New London Theatre on May 11, 1981, and was far from a sure-fire hit. Jeeves, Lloyd Webber's first show since his split from Superstar, Joseph and Evita collaborator Tim Rice, had flopped, while producer Cameron Mackintosh had yet to score a major hit and director Trevor Nunn had never helmed a musical.

Add to that a plot as thin as its dancers' lycra clothing, based on poems from a notoriously downbeat author and a last-minute change of leading lady and the show's chances of success seemed very remote indeed.

But although the opening night interrupted by a bomb scare, Cats' stunning song and dance routines and a cast which included Wayne Sleep, Paul Nicholas, Elaine Paige, Brian Blessed, Bonny Langford and Sarah Brightman received rave reviews. The show ran for 21 years, closing on May 11, 2002 with a simultaneous big-screen performance in nearby Covent Garden.