Les Miserables -- the second-longest-running show in Broadway history -- will play its final performance March 15, 2003, its producer Cameron Mackintosh said yesterday.

The hugely popular stage musical will have played a total of 6,612 performances and run 16 years on Broadway.

Only Cats, another Mackintosh show, ran longer. 

Yesterday Mackintosh said that although Les Miserables never lost any money in any of its 16 years, "it just broke even last year." 

He said he could probably squeeze another year or more out of Les Miserables but "there would be no profits, just even-steven." 

Based on Victor Hugo's novel about a fugitive, Jean Valjean, who assumes a new identity and becomes a prosperous businessman until he is unmasked by a relentless policeman, Les Miserables debuted at the non-profit Royal Shakespeare Company in London in 1985. 

Initial reviews were largely negative, but the morning the show opened Mackintosh noticed a line at the box-office window. 

Believing that audiences, if not critics, were caught up in the emotional sweep of the story, Mackintosh, after a boozy lunch with the show's writers, decided to buck the reviews and keep the show open. 

Les Miserables opened in New York in 1986 and won the Tony for Best Musical. 

Many theater people thought Mackintosh would float the show until it toppled Cats as the longest-running show in history, but the producer said he "did not want to occupy a theater just to break a record." 

After Sept. 11, Les Miserables saw its weekly grosses plunge to precarious levels. But Mackintosh kept the show afloat by striking deals with theater unions. 

After Les Miserables goes, The Phantom of the Opera, yet another Mackintosh show, will be the only remaining British mega-musical, a genre that dominated Broadway in the 1980s and 1990s. 

The astonishing success of Les Miserables -- it has grossed $390 million on Broadway and $1.8 billion worldwide -- helped transform the theater business around the country. 

Theaters were built or restored in many cities just so touring productions of Les Miz would have a place to land. 

Often, those theaters were the anchors of downtown redevelopment projects. 

Les Miz and Mackintosh's other shows also contributed to the rise of Clear Channel, a giant entertainment corporation that now dominates the touring business in the United States and is one of the most powerful producing organizations on Broadway. 

"Les Miz was really the first mega-show that spiked audience attendance on the road and raised the level of quality presented in our theaters," said Scott Zeiger, head of Clear Channel's theater division in North America.

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