Now Playing at the Palace Theater

The legendary "CATS" has opened at the Palace, and it should not be missed. This most successful of all stage musicals has been very nicely brought to Columbus, and if the range of ages among the audience at opening night is any indication, the success should continue here.

The levels of genius in this show are many. The concept of doing an entire musical based on the thin reed of the personalities of a few eccentric cats (aren't they all?) would make a great pitch parody for "The Producers." Add the chutzpah of cobbling together poetry from a long-dead English poet (albeit a Nobel Prize winner), dressing up the cast in feline finery and hanging the story line on a single cat's desire to be reborn, and you've got a formula that should never work.

But there is true magic here, first and foremost that of Andrew Lloyd Weber. The score for this show is magnificent. It's topped off, of course, by the standard "Memories," the classic lament of a creaky, crotchety elder headed to the graveyard, hoping to become somehow young again.

The anthem is more than worthy of T.S. Eliot, the poet whose collected writings provided the inspiration. But without a performer to give it the necessary passion and precision, it could also be a show-killer. It has to be sung just right, with notes that defy gravity, and a stage presence to match.

Thankfully, Angie Smith's Grizabella gets it right. Her key solo comes on like the dance of an Olympic figure skater approaching a multiple airborne spin. With the whole hall waiting breathlessly for her to soar, that's exactly what Ms. Smith did. It is a gorgeous moment, for which she deserves great credit. And for me---as one entering the age of creaky and crotchety all too quickly---it was the pivotal triumph of the entire evening.

There are other excellent moments, including the lengthy but stunning Jellicle Ball that wraps up Act One. Here you have twenty extremely athletic, heavily costumed dancers performing in absolute synch for what seemed like an hour without ever missing a step or beat. This is an aerobic routine that's not to be missed.

There is much more, bound up in the exotic songs and dances of cat-characters with names like Skimbleshanks, Sillabub, The Tugger and Old Deuteronomy.

There are also some impressive pyrotechnics, including a spaceship-type contraption that evokes "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." I could've lived without all that. But I brought my own test-marketing crew---my daughters Julie, age 15, and Shoshanna, age 7. They both loved those parts.

More importantly, they stayed awake, entertained, educated, and even awed through the entire lengthy performance, and left the theater singing.

So do we argue with CATS? Especially when it comes to kids? No, we don't. Bring them, and the elders (there were plenty at this show as well) and have yourself a great evening.

-- Senior Editor Harvey Wasserman is author of A GLIMPSE OF THE BIG LIGHT: LOSING PARENTS, FINDING SPIRIT (