The dozen or so songs on “Cats” are essentially special numbers and glorious auditions, with the various feline characters taking turns coming out and telling their own stories in hopes of advancing to the next layer, before retiring and remixing. with the rest of the pack (or disappear entirely, since some of them are double cast with the same cast members).
The tunes span a variety of different musical styles, a nod to the Andrews Sisters here, another to Elvis Presley there, but they’re always well accompanied by City Springs’ slick 10-piece orchestra, conducted by Michael Duff and featuring music. director Greg Matteson on keyboards.
There are more than a few highlights. The successful Jalise Wilson, who serves as the company’s artistic and casting associate, wanders on and off stage long enough to belt out two remarkable choruses of “Memory,” the show’s signature song, as the once-glamorous and ever since ostracized. Grizabella. Like Old Deuteronomy, Harry takes a couple of occasions to introduce his booming baritone voice (“Happiness Moments,” “The Cats’ Speech”).
Danny Iktomi Bevins also scores with his upbeat number “Shambleshanks, the Railway Cat.” And Spencer Dean’s Elvis-inspired, hip-spinning “Rum Tum Tugger” routine also features impressive tap dancing. Dean also provides the voice for “Mister Mistoffelees,” about a character played by Harry Francis in a non-verbal, non-sung display of sheer ballet brilliance.
While the cast does a good job of honing the requisite feline mannerisms, several roles seem a bit bland and interchangeable. Partly due to the script (or lack thereof) and partly due to their similar makeup and wardrobe, there isn’t much of a distinction between Jellylorum (Meredith Crain) or Jennyanydots (Lauren Brooke Tatum), or between Demeter (Indigo Forbes) and Bombalurina. (Maggie McCown). Likewise, the ensemble deftly executes all of the athletic demands of the choreography, but the drawn-out “Jellicle Ball” dance sequence near the end of the first act still feels a bit off.
Despite Old Deuteronomy’s eventual claim that the audience is supposed to identify or relate to these cats on some sort of human level, the only instance of a legitimate emotional connection on the show comes courtesy of Atlanta actor Steve Hudson. . Though he’s funny enough in his boisterous performance of “Bustopher Jones,” it’s with his heartfelt performance as the frail, wistful “Gus the Theater Cat” that he uniquely registers and resonates with. Gus may not end up being chosen to ascend to that Heaviside cape, but since he was so memorably played by Hudson, he surely should be.
Until May 21. 8 p.m. Thursday through Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. $45-$108. Byers Theater (at the Sandy Springs Center for the Performing Arts), 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. 404-477-4365, cityspringstheatre.com.
Bottom line: After more than 40 years, or more than 200 in the equivalent of so-called “cat years,” the crowd-pleasing musical still endures.