“Dog Man the Musical” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre

Brian Owen and Forest Vandyke surrounded by the cast of “Dog Man The Musical,” (l to r): L.R. Davidson, Crystal Sha’nae, Jamie Laverdiere and Dan Rosales.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Dog Man the Musical comes from the pen of one of the most banned authors in America today. Dav Pilkey is the man who gave us the “Captain Underpants” series. And as you might expect, there is an entire swathe of old-school educators (bureaucrats) and parent do-gooders who feel his work corrupts the youth. They gave Socrates hemlock for the same reason. In truth, Pilkey’s got kids reading, which is a step in the right direction. As a book, Dog Man has sold 23 million copies and has been translated into 21 languages – nothing succeeds like success.

The man’s detractors have little to complain about, however, with his new theatrical endeavor produced by TheaterWorksUSA. Dog Man is for kids, but it has a great deal of humor adults will enjoy. The cast is a strong set of actors who can sing and dance, and the technical crew brings heightened professionalism that is usually lacking in shows for kids.

The premise is simple enough. George and Harold (who in the books draw the Captain Underpants cartoons) have been kicked out of their fifth-grade musical for changing the words to make the songs more interesting. Their complaint was that the play is about a red-headed orphan girl who was excessively focused on “Tomorrow.” So, they decide to create their own musical from a comic strip of their own. After all, how hard could it be to write a musical? There’s even one about the guy on the $10 bill.

So, a policeman and his dog are trying to disarm a bomb. The dog say to cut the green wire rather than the red, but unfortunately, dogs are color blind. Boom! At the hospital, the policeman’s head is dying while the dog’s body is dying. The solution is to put the dog’s head on the policeman’s body, creating Dog Man.

Yes, it’s silly, but I would remind you there was a musical for adults some time ago about a guy who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes a superhero. Bono wrote the music.

The key to understanding the show is the same as it is in understanding the old “Bullwinkle and Rocky Show” or the World War II era “Looney Tunes” cartoons. The stuff is written to entertain kids, but the authors want to entertain the adults they know are in the room and to entertain themselves.

Director Jen Wineman (who also does the choreography) has the actors play their roles as seriously as possible, which is why the humor works and why the show appeals beyond the fifth grade. Brian Owen, as Dog Man, does have a problem in that his lines for most of the show consist of “woof,” but he gets every laugh in the script and then some. L.R. Davidson as Li’l Petey and a few incidental characters shows that she gets kids’ theatre.

Forest VanDyke as George and Dan Rosales as Harold are scarily like the drawings of their characters in the book, genuinely nerdy 11-year olds and best pals. Crystal Sha’nae as Flippy (the evil bionic fish) may be doing a kids’ show, but she sings and dances with all the deliberate seriousness of a performer in that $10-bill-guy show. Personally, I look forward to watching her career develop. Jamie Laverdiere rounds out the cast Petey the most evil cat in the world – and who has a strong and lyrical voice that he readily adapts to the character, He revels in the role.

Kevin Del Aguila (book and lyrics) and Brad Alexander (music) worked together on the PBS program Peg + Cat, a previous TheatreWorksUSA project called “Click, Clack, Moo,” and the upcoming series from Amazon and PBS “Clifford the Big Red Dog.” They have lush resumes, and they have created songs that are catchy and fun. Indeed, the “Opening Number” makes appropriate fun of musicals in a way we haven’t seen since “Something Rotten.”

Running Time: 85 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.

“Dog Man the Musical” is play at the Lucille Lortel Theatre at 121 Christopher Street, New York City, through August 4. For more information and tickets, visit TheaterWorksUSA’s website.

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