Cats, Shubert Theatre.

When Cats opened on Broadway 20 years ago, it was a sensation. More spectacle than story, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical transported theatergoers to a moonlit junkyard populated by sinuous, stretching, preening cats with electronic glittering eyes, all competing for the privilege of ascending to heaven in a spaceship and being reborn. But such effects no longer seem wondrous–the stakes have gone up. Blinking eyes and a slowly rising platform are no match for a descending helicopter (Miss Saigon) or flames shooting from a man’s arms (Beauty and the Beast), and animal puppets (The Lion King) now seem more realistic and graceful than these creatures.

What’s left is a tired pastiche of melodious songs that will sound familiar even if you’ve never seen Cats, trite if energetic dancing (choreographed by Gillian Lynne and Richard Stafford), and a garbled story that obscures T.S. Eliot’s lean, light cat verses and makes sense only if you’ve read a summary of the plot. With so many copies of this show around–vapid, emotionally manipulative musicals that feature soaring melodies and whiz-bang special effects–the original now seems more cliched than ever. Yet it remains a crowd pleaser, and the young cast do an adequate job of fulfilling expectations, though they’re only sporadically catlike.