This late in the game it's pointless to talk about what a bad show Cats is. Ever since its Broadway opening, in 1982, minds more astute and pens far defter than mine have weighed in on its lack of quality. The Village Voice's Michael Feingold said, among other things, "[Andrew Lloyd Webber's] music is not terrible ... if you don't mind its being so soiled from previous use."
And talking about the "plot" is even more ridiculous, since there isn't one. If you want to know what Cats is like, go sit in a chair and repeat for two hours: "It's about cats. It's about cats. It's about cats." Based on a book of children's poems by T.S. Eliot, it's about cats who act the way people who say they like cats like their cats to act ... which is to say, like little children.
I could try to deduce its universal appeal. In some countries, theaters were built specifically to house it. And I can't tell you how many times my heart was sunk learning -- how does one put this delicately? -- that the gentleman with whom one had hoped to pass the evening had named his cat "Mungojerrie" or "Skimbleshanks" or "Bustopher Jones" or one of the other too, too precious character names. Nothing ever ended an evening's planned revelry quicker. (Cats is probably the only reason I'm still alive today.)
But honestly, just as with the Reagan presidency from that same era, I'm mystified by the show's popularity. So let's talk about the Pittsburgh Musical Theatre version, which has the honor of being the first local production since the stock rights became available.
It's great to see all those local dancers and singers on Alfred Krischman's humorous set, dressed in Kim Brown's mountain of cat costumes, in makeup designs by Rod Carter. Ken Gargaro directs with choreography by Lisa Moran Phinney, and though the production can get, shall we say, a little broad, I especially enjoyed Scott Sambucco's Munkustrap and James Bulleri's Mistoffelees. (See? I wasn't kidding about those names.) It shouldn't be too surprising to learn that the evening's a mite feral around the edges (this show cost a fortune to stage on Broadway and, obviously, PMT's budget is a great deal smaller). But this cast, and Camille Villalpando Rolla's orchestra, play with a tremendous amount of energy and excitement. All in all, Pittsburgh Musical Theatre's production will give those diehard fans of Cats the Cats they wanna see.
Now and forever ... unfortunately.Cats continues through Jan. 28. Byham Theatre, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. 412-456-6666