Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
The 101 Dalmatians Musical
Broadway Across America - Miami and Purina Dog Chow, along with A Magic Arts & Entertainment/Tix Corporation, Troika Entertainment, Luis Alvarez and Jon B. Platt Production in association with Allen Spivak and Brad Krassner, present the South Florida premiere of The 101 Dalmatians Musical at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.
Based on the original novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians written in 1956 by Dodie Smith, The 101 Dalmatians Musical features music and lyrics by Dennis De Young, and book and lyrics by B.T. McNicholl. The musical began in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in October of 2009, and its scheduled performance stops ahead include a three-week engagement at the WaMu Theater at New York's Madison Square Garden. While most Americans will remember the tale as told by Disney in the 1961 animated film One Hundred and One Dalmatians, true to the feel of the original book, the musical attempts to tell the story from the dogs' point of view. Though children are used to play the puppies, the cast proudly includes 15 professionally trained rescued Dalmatians.
Set in 1957, The 101 Dalmatians Musical follows the story of newlywed Dalmatian spouses Pongo and Mrs. Pongo. In this tale, dogs allow humans to think they are the owners, when it is actually the other way around. In London's Regent's Park the two Dalmatians live the good life with their "pets" Charles and Catherine Dearly and their two nannies, Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler. After Mrs. Pongo gives birth to a litter of ten puppies, Mrs. Dearly adopts an abandoned Dalmatian named Perdita as a wet nurse to the pups. Mrs. Dearly runs into a wealthy old schoolmate named Cruella de Vil, now married to a furrier. Cruella takes an immediate interest in the Dearlys and their Dalmatians. She has her two henchmen Jasper and Jinx dognap the puppies and whisk them away to her family estate in Suffolk. There they join dozens of other Dalmatians waiting in fear for their impending transformation into coats and gloves for Cruella's latest line of furs. The Pongos leave Perdita to take care of the Dearlys and, with the help of a network of other dogs, the Pongos travel from London to Suffolk and back to rescue their puppies. Cruella and her henchmen are in hot pursuit along the way. The story is a retelling of the universal tale of parents' love for their children, and how families must band together in difficult times.
Rachel York is deliciously diabolical as Cruella De Vil. She cuts a glamorous and menacing figure with Cruella's signature white and black tresses, and stylish if severe couture in shades of red. With a glare that withers and a smile like a grimace she owns the role of Cruella to the very last belted high note of the reprise of "Cruella Always Gets Her Way." She is undoubtedly the best thing in this show. If the rest of The 101 Dalmatians Musical were at a level half as good as York's performance, this would be a show to run and see. Unfortunately, it has the feeling of a work in development and is (forgive the pun) "spotty" at best.
Presumably because the show is told through the eyes of the dogs, the actors playing people walk on mini-stilts some one-foot high, to make them appear taller. This is novel for the first scene, but becomes distracting as some actors move about with more difficulty than others. The costuming for the human characters is very well executed, especially considering the extra foot of leg added into the mix. However, the costuming for the animals is far less interesting and detailed. The spotted Dalmatian ensembles and the use of sweat suits on the puppies seems oddly low budget for this sort of production. The use of virtual vs. representational props, such as a backdrop with a miniature version of the car chasing the dogs, is thematically inconsistent, and a framed stage arch for the gypsy scene is brought in too far before the song "Spot-On" actually began to make sense. Though the sound is uniformly good, on the night attended the microphones cut out briefly four times during the show.
While tweaking the technical aspects of The 101 Dalmatians Musical would help, the music and the script need the most work. The songs and performances in the show are all largely forgettable, with overly simplified and uninteresting harmonies. There are few exceptions. Actress Julie Foldesi, who has a pure and lovely voice, sings the song "One True Love" beautifully as Perdita. Michael Thomas Holmes and Robert Anthony Jones also do a fun, second-act comic duet as Jinx and Jasper called "Having the Crime of Our Lives" that is worth a chuckle or two. There is one well written ensemble number at the end of act one with nice harmonies and counterpoint. The script includes an odd and unexplained or explored pointed reference to a potential romantic interest between same sex couple Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler that twice comes out of nowhere. An additional unexplored reference is found in Cruella's cat foreshadowing her assisting the Pongos by saying that she will have her revenge on Cruella for drowning her kittens. In the original book she later extracts her revenge by helping the Pongos destroy all of Cruella's furs. This never happens in the musical as we never again see Cruella's cat, and her mysterious threat is empty. While the most catchy melody in the show is "Be a Little Bit Braver," its presence in the show is illogical. As the Pongos start their journey to Suffolk, an Old English Sheepdog appears who introduces this inexplicably reggae song. It comes off too much as a gimmick. The songs "A Perfect Family", which extols the virtue of family, and "My Sweet Child", which extols loving someone exactly as they are, both come off as formulaic rather than sincere. From start to finish, this overly formulaic musical is disappointingly lacking in the creativity and heart it deserves.
The 101 Dalmatians Musical ran December 30, 2009 - January 3, 2010 at the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House of the Adrienne Arsht Center For The Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County. For more information on the tour, visit www.the101dalmatiansmusical.com.
The Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is located at 1300 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami, FL. The center is made possible by the public support of the Miami-Dade County Major and the Board of County Commissioners, the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, and the Miami-Dade County Tourist Development Council. It also receives generous support from private and corporate contributions to the Performing Arts Center Foundation of Greater Miami through it's Membership Program, the City of Miami Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, the Dade Community Foundation, The MAP-Fund, the Sate of Florida, the Department of State, the Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. For information or to purchase tickets for the many diverse offering of the Arsht Center, you may contact them at 305-949-6722, or visit them at www.arschtcenter.org.
Broadway Across America - Miami is presented in arrangement with the Florida Theatrical Association, which is a non-profit, civic organization with a volunteer board of trustees established to ensure the continued presentation of quality national touring Broadway productions in the state of Florida. Broadway Across America is dedicated to creating memorable and accessible theatrical experiences for all guests, selling over five million tickets to first rate Broadway shows, family productions and other live theatrical events in over 40 North American cities each year.
The actors and stage managers in this production are members of Actor's Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.