by Marilyn Lester
Who wouldn’t love a cute little dog named Cupid? Of course you would! That notion is the uncomplicated yet strategic premise of the utterly charming new musical A Dog Story. The show is a kind of “boy gets dog, boy loses dog, boy gets dog” tale that’s a pleaser from first bark to last. The show’s complement of four perfectly cast actors will not only convince you that the imaginary dog playing Cupid is worthy of your love, but will have you rolling over in laughter and delight – with no need to sit up and beg for this treat of a show.
The protagonist of A Dog Story is Roland, a career-driven attorney who deduces he needs a wife to make partner in his law firm. The problem is that Roland is a nebbish when it comes to women. “I go to museums, laundromats, the produce section – whenever I see a pretty woman I get cramps,” he bemoans. His bestie, the aptly named, overly hormonal Guy, has the solution: “Get a Dog,” a musical number that sets the tone for a score by Gayla D. Morgan (music and lyrics) that’s suitably tuneful, lyrically clever and pleasing to the ear. Eric H. Weinberger’s book, even when it leans to triteness and cliché, overall makes for a good time. Plus, you will learn a thing or two about right-thinking, responsibility and how to properly train a dog.
David Perlman, who plays Roland (and has been with the show since it’s initial development) portrays the human equivalent of Cupid: an earnest fellow hoping to please, naïve and awkward, but also thoroughly loveable. Perlman is the perfect foil for Guy, played by Brian Ray Norris, the man-boy who declares with absolute certainty that “The ladies love dudes with dogs.” Perlman makes it easy to believe he admires Guy’s dudish ways, knowing he’ll never be a player in the booze and broads league. The two women in Roland’s life are the object of his desire, the temptress Blair, who is attracted to him because of Cupid, and the no-nonsense Miranda, the puppy’s trainer. Both women, Stefanie Brown and Lindsie VanWinkle, respectively, are completely truthful in their performances, with vamping and treat-dispensing driving home plot points with authenticity.
About three quarters of the way into A Dog Story and the musical number “Let’s Make Some Noise,” a girl versus dog climactic, your suspicion that this story is as predictable as you thought it was going to be is confirmed. But be assured that ultimately, somewhat obvious plotting does not matter one whit. A Dog Story has a twist ending that rights any perceived flaws in the plot. When the imaginary curtain comes down at the finale, A Dog Story pays off in a multitude of happy-making ways. There are also plenty of highlights along the way. One is the “Vacation/Training Tango,” a gem of a parody in which both Perlman and VanWinkle shine with comedic yet toothsome choreography by Shannon Lewis. In “The Nightmare,” Norris, Brown and VanWinkle sing and move vividly around Perlman’s tortured and comedic angst. Director Justin Baldridge has wisely and energetically moved his cast around their small playing area with intelligence and excellent pacing. Much of the success of A Dog Story comes from the intimacy of the small black box space. With audience seated on two sides of the stage, there’s an immediate buy-in to the shenanigans going on mere feet away. Economically tucked into the space is the small musical ensemble, led by Music Director, Dylan Marcaurele.
Contributing to the “good dog!” success of the show is scenic design by Lauren Mills. Mondrian-like lockers on each side of the playing area open to reveal an amazing stock of props, including a full-size Murphy bed. This clever use of space is augmented with creative lighting design by Jamie Roderick. Additionally, sound design by Tyler Kieffer and costume design by Travis Chinick also enhance the proceedings. Production Stage Manager is Marjorie Ann Wood.
A Dog Story, November 3, 2016 – March 6, 2017, Performances Thurs @ 7pm, Fri @ 8pm, Sat @ 2pm and 8pm, Sun @ 3pm and 7pm, Mon @ 7pm
Davenport Theatre, 354 West 45th Street, Tickets via Telegharge at 800-447-7400 or via www.telecharge.com. or in person at the theater.
Photos: Jeremy Daniel