by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & nce upon a time, back in 1981 -- in a world without Indiana Jones, without any David Letterman on Late Night, without even any MTV -- a man named Andrew Lloyd Webber created a musical about dancing and singing cats. He called it Cats.

Boys and girls, Mr. Webber borrowed his lyrics from a book of poems by a very wise poet named Thomas Stearns Eliot. Do you want to know how to greet a cat? Mr. Eliot knows: "You bow, and taking off your hat / Address him in this form: 'O, cat!' / ... So this is this, and that is that, / And there's how you address a cat." Later on, when the cats' leader first appears, they greet him in this manner: "Can it be really? / No! Yes! Ho! Hi! Oh, my eye! / ... I believe it is Old Deuteronomy!"

Cats goes on like that for two hours.

But the story of Cats is not hard to follow, children. (Think of it as gymnastics with cat fur.) The play takes place in an enormous junkyard -- the water pipes and the box of Friskies are big enough to climb into. Every year, you see, there's a gathering of the Jellicle cats. While each of the cats performs, hoping to be selected for an ascent to heaven, the chosen one is revealed as the outcast Grizabella, a kind of Celine Dion in cat whiskers.

Along the way, funny actors move just like cats as they swarm up and over the junkyard one by one: rebellious Rum Tum Tugger, kindly Jennyanydots, boastful Growltiger, magical Mr. Mistoffelees, mischievous Macavity. And there's a beautiful song near the end called "Memory," which suggests that you don't always have to feel lonely or sad.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & f you enjoy computers, kids, you might want to visit Mr. Webber's website, where fans of Cats have submitted reviews like this one: "BEST MUSICAL EVER" followed by 14 exclamation marks. Other fans, disappointed in such a lack of enthusiasm, have added 22 and (the current record) 31 exclamation marks.

People from all over the world -- Freja from Denmark, Maria from Portugal, Denisse from Mexico -- have written in to convey their excitement. But their enthusiasm is nothing, children, compared to this entry: "Hi! i'm from Canada! i first saw Cats in my house! ... When i saw the movie i originally rented from the movie store on sale, i bought it! So i could be known as the Catwoman!"

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & ut back to the upcoming tour of Cats. Let's allow a woman named Sarah Petrescu, who saw this very production just last week in Victoria, British Columbia, to tell us all about it. She's a theater critic. "Why Cats still endures is a bit of a mystery," she says. "With the obvious Christian symbolism of the patriarch Old Deuteronomy, who chooses which cat will ascend to another life in the Heavyside Layer, there seems to be a deep message there. But from a gang of Lycra-clad twinkle-toes in Kiss-style makeup? I don't think so." Sometimes theater critics are so grumpy.

Did you know that Cats was the very first musical to slap its logo -- the yellow eyes with dancing irises that you see here -- onto key chains and coffee mugs? It has been heavily marketed ever since to boys and girls just like you. (Ask Mommy if you can please, please have a souvenir. Please.)

Back when Cats premiered in New York City, a theater critic named Frank Rich declared that while Cats might "fill the stage with a continuous outpouring of song and dance," it was equally true that "Mr. Webber's shows dispense with book scenes -- as well as, at times, with content or feeling." Theater critics sound like substitute teachers. That must be why they're so grumpy.

The dancers of Cats will flick their tails at the INB Center on Tuesday-Thursday, April 24-26, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $30-$49. A Wednesday matinee has been added for the kiddies at 10:30 am. Tickets: $25-$38. Visit or call 325-SEAT.

Golden Harvest: Flour Sacks from the Permanent Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 15
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