Allow me to defend Cats. I know it's Andrew Lloyd Webber. I know there's hardly any plot. I know Cats set a Broadway record for 18 years of mediocrity.
But as Pittsburgh Musical Theater reminds us, Cats is a fun little song-and-dance piece, and there's nothing wrong with that. Back in 1981, Webber adapted Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, a book of nonsense poems by T.S. Eliot. He dressed his cast in weird glam-rock costumes -- like a mash-up of Twisted Sister and Felix the Cat. Each mystical kitten had a ridiculous name, such as Munkustrap and Rum Tum Tugger. They danced and sang for two hours. One cat ascended to the Heaviside Layer. The end.
As Webber goes, Cats is low-tech and avant-garde, and aside from super-hit song "Memory," the score is catchy. Here, the PMT performers fling themselves across the stage; they lift, backflip, leg-split and somersault -- anything to wow their audience. If a note can be belted, they belt it.
If Cats is just a Furry convention on steroids, the show's performers have always put their amateur cousins to shame. Unlike faux-political monstrosities like Miss Saigon and Evita, there is something harmless about this preposterous poperetta. Yes, the show is bizarrely sexual, and at times the stage seems to crawl with clumped hair and unitards. But at its core, Cats is simply a dance recital about fancy cats with funny names.
Lisa Elliott directs an immeasurably talented cast, and with more than 20 performers, this Cats suffers no weak links. The costumes are splendidly weird, and designer Kim Brown should be proud of her sartorial toil. The only real trouble is technical -- the singers' microphones are uneven, and the harmonies may sound off. But when Maria Mauti sings "Memory," she executes it perfectly, and that, for many fans, is all that matters.
As usual, PMT throws some local flair, in the form of familiar posters and an off-stage yinzer accent. In the end, Cats is cute in that exhausting way. Webber might have you see Cats as a Christian parable. Others might see a tribute to Social Darwinism. But it's best not to think about it too much. Luckily, no one ever has.
Cats continues through Sun., Feb. 6. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org