Also see Sharon's review of Never Gonna Dance
As the show progresses, it doesn't seem like even the five-to-eight crowd is enjoying it, as demonstrated by the wiggling, wandering in the aisles, and crying on display at opening night. It isn't entirely the kids' fault. The show doesn't keep itself at a level of spectacle, humor, or wonder that will keep young children involved. At one point, Dee Hoty (who elevates the proceedings simply with her presence) stands in the dark in front of a black curtain, and sings the sweet "I Think I Like You," while she's lit only by a spotlight. It isn't the sort of thing that will engage a kid who enjoyed the call and response with Tune at the beginning of the show.
And the show has very little to engage adults, either. Let's be honest here - adults do not buy tickets for this show because they want to see two guys in an intentionally cheap-looking horse suit or someone waving around a seal puppet. Adults go to see Dr. Dolittle because Tommy Tune is playing Dolittle, and they want to see some serious tap dancing. And there's precious little of it in this show. When Tune sings "Talk to the Animals," he spends the bulk of the song sitting in a chair. While the song itself offers a great opportunity for a huge dance break, with Tune trading taps with all sorts of different creatures, it just isn't here. When Dolittle takes his two-headed llama to join the circus, the circus folk excitedly sing "I've Never Seen Anything Like It," but they seem to make a concerted effort to not dance - choreographer Patti Colombo tantalizingly has the ensemble just bounce up and down to the beat. Finally, forty minutes into this ninety-minute show, Tune gets down to business and taps with Pushmi/Pullyu, lighting up the theatre. But it was an awfully long wait for what could have been a much bigger payoff.
There is one other tap number in the show, the "Monkey-Monkey Island Dance." Tune shares the stage with Aaron Burr, a twelve-year-old tapper playing Chee-Chee, the monkey. Tune and Burr - backed by the enthusiastic ensemble - perform admirably, finally sating the audience's hunger for some eye-popping tap. For those of us who have seen Tune when he was twenty or thirty years younger, there's something undeniably sad about it. Sure, he's still in remarkably good shape and can still entertain an audience. But, after the number, Chee-Chee brings Dolittle a drink - Tune is winded; Burr is not. And Burr, not Tune, has a solo at the end of the song. It's great that Tune is working with young dancers, but you can't help but think he deserves better than to pass the torch to a kid in a monkey suit.
In a "Letter From Tommy Tune" included in the press materials, Tune writes, "I would love Dr. Dolittle to be the first show a kid sees with his family." The first show a kid sees is very important; it pretty much determines whether there's going to be a second show, or if the kid is just going to decide that he hates musicals. But with Dr. Dolittle's hodgepodge of silliness, tenderness, tap, cheesy animal costumes, and song, audiences of any age could find something in there to like, but they're virtually guaranteed to find something in there that they won't.
Dr. Dolittle continues at the Pantages Theatre through March 5, 2006. For tickets, see www.broadwayla.org.
Pittsburgh CLO, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., Independent Presenters Network, Columbia Artists Theatricals, New Venture Entertainment, LLC present Dr. Dolittle. Scenery Designed by Kenneth Foy; Costumes for Mr. Tune, Ms. Hoty & Animal Characters Designed by Dona Granata; Lighting Designed by Ken Billington; Sound Designed by Peter Fitzgerald; Original Costumes Designed by Ann Hould-Ward; Hair Designed by David H. Lawrence; Orchestrations by Larry Blank; Music Direction & Vocal Arrangements by Michael Biagi; Music Coordinator Sam Lutfiyya; Dance & Incidental Music Arranged by G. Harrell; Exclusive Tour Direction Columbia Artists Theatricals; Tour Press & Marketing TMG - The Marketing Group; Company Manager G. Eric Muratalla; Casting by Dave Clemmons Casting; Associate Director/Production Supervisor Bruce Lumpkin; Associate Choreographer Joel Blum; Choreography by Patti Columbo; Production Staged by Tommy Tune.
Ensemble: Amanda Braddock, Jessica Leigh Brown, Aaron Burr, Kristen Dawn Calgaro, Matthew Crowle, Sandi DeGeorge, Jack Doyle, Mike Erickson, Joe Jackson, Lesley M. Klose, Scott Leiendecker, Allan Mangaser, Amanda Rose, Jonathan Richard Sandler, Sarah Stiles, Sally Ann Swarm, Elisa Van Duyne, David F.M. Vaughn, Erin Webley, Steven Wenslawski, Jessica Wu.
Photo by Joan Marcus