With an underlying theme of “stick together”, and “family conquers all”, this musical version of The 101 Dalmatians classic tale is based on Dodie Smith’s original book (not the Disney movie). Although admittedly geared toward children, the Broadway theatre musical numbers are full of toe-tapping fun, and the script is dotted with jokes to elicit a grown-up chuckle or two.
A Dog’s Life
Directed by Jerry Zaks, this whimsical musical gives a hint of what life would be like from a dog’s perspective, reflected by the “larger than life” human characters who all appear two feet taller than the dogs. Thanks to creative costuming and careful choreography, the human characters perform the entire show on stilt-like platform shoes. While the awkwardness of actors on stilts is somewhat distracting at first, when combined with the large angular scenery, it ultimately brings about the desired effect of a peek into the world of dogs.
Unlike the Broadway Shows Cats or The Lion King, The 101 Dalmatians Musical costumes allow a little room for the imagination. The canines are clearly not meant to actually look like dogs, but instead are dressed in human-like clothing altered to represent their particular breeds. At first this is a bit confusing, but then it simply takes a moment to realize that they are dogs, simply because they are not seven or eight feet tall! At this point, the creativity of the canine costumes becomes endearing.
Set in 1950’s London, the plot leads Pongo and Missus, beloved dogs of Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, to search for their ten stolen Dalmatian pups. On their journey, they come across dogs of many different breeds willing to help them find their lost children. The dogs are accompanied on their quest by the catchy, reggae-like song, “Be a Little Braver”, with musical lyrics by Dennis DeYoung from Styx.
When Pongo and Missus eventually find their pups, they witness their children working together and encouraging each other in the midst of dire circumstances, a proud moment for any parent. The trip home with ninety-some pups (their own and others they rescue) proves difficult, but eventually the Dalmatians reunite with their family on Christmas Eve.
Broadway Musical Fun
Sarah Gettelfinger’s portrayal of Cruella De Vil and James Ludwig’s rendition of Pongo remind the audience that this show has its share of Broadway quality vocal talent. Joel Blum as the narrator, Prince, allows the audience to understand a bit more of the plot, although it might still be a bit confusing at times. This is particularly the case when Pongo and Missus begin with 10 pups, but mysteriously, it seems, later have only eight. At that point, it ‘s hard to tell if there are actually 101 Dalmatians or 103!.
Apparently meant to bring about madcap fun, Cruella de Vil’s two cronies, Jasper and Jinx, came up a bit short. At times their accents were so thick that it was difficult to understand what these wanna-be criminals were saying, and when it was understandable it simply didn’t seem to be that funny–particularly for the underage crowd.
All in all, expect The 101 Dalmatians Musical to bring an evening of fun and entertainment not soon forgotten!