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SAN DIEGO
Regional Reviews by Bill Eadie

Dog and Pony
The Old Globe


Heidi Blickenstaff, Eric William Morris, Beth Leavel,
Jon Patrick Walker and Nicole Parker

Is it possible to write a successful musical where there's almost no character arc for the leading couple? If you answered no to that question, you might find that Dog and Pony, a world premiere musical now onstage at San Diego's Old Globe, may be the exception that proves the rule.

Mags (Nicole Parker) and Andy (Jon Patrick Walker) are very successful film writers with a string of eleven hits to their credit. Even so, they find themselves pitching projects to producers with only a title to go on. Andy's married to Jane (Heidi Blickenstaff), who has more or less gotten used to having the unmarried Mags around a lot. It seems that Mags and Andy often do their best work in romantic circumstances, so the pair sometimes go to great lengths (such as renting New York's Rainbow Room so they can dance together high above Manhattan) to find inspiration.

The strategy works a lot, but sometimes the "work spouses" just bang heads. And, in fact, after the Rainbow Room opening, book writer Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) and composer Michael Patrick Walker's (Altar Boys) couple go through an extended period of head-banging, lasting much of act one. The head-banging doesn't bother Andy much at all, but it maddens the women in his life: Mags, Jane and Rhoda, Andy's mother (the indispensable Beth Leavel). Audience, too: what looked from the opening to be a fun updating of the characters Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn played opposite each other in the movies turned out to contain a bunch of "unwanted repetitive patterns," a kind of communication that is just frustrating, both to participants and observers.

Act two brings some clarification. Eventually, Andy and Mags did get the job writing the film with just a title to go on, and they made the story work by starting at the end and then writing a series of flashbacks that eventually explain the opening scene. Not so coincidentally, Mr. Elice and Mr. Walker do the same thing: after the Rainbow Room opening, they shift to the Sun Valley Film Festival, where Mags and Andy are being honored for the film they eventually wrote together. The host (Eric William Morris) wants them to describe their "creative process" for the audience, and the remainder of the show is their account of it.

Act two also brings some new characters: Bonnie (Ms. Blickenstaff), a Mrs. Malaprop sound-alike who refers to herself in the third person; Doris (Ms. Leavel), Mags' mother, who shares some similar qualities (and a song—which is a neat trick) with Rhoda; and Joe (Mr. Morris), a love interest for Mags. And, eventually, the audience realizes that Mr. Walker's score contains a song that serves as a soliloquy for each of the characters. Once that realization hits, the fact that there are a lot of numbers that function more as recitative than aria begins to make sense. Thank goodness that Scott Lehrer's sound design allows the audience to hear those lyrics clearly over the below-the-stage band.

In fact, the structure and score of Dog and Pony are both quite clever, but not in a conventional way. Rather, it's a metaphor, as the characters like to say.

Veteran actor-director Roger Rees must have realized that he had two attractive but bland leading characters for whom "stuff happens" but who end up in a similar place, emotionally, to where they started. He also must have realized that he had two sparkplug singer-comediennes in Ms. Leavel and Ms. Blickenstaff, whose characters have the best lines (unfortunately, the versatile Mr. Walker's character is also bland—his outstanding characteristic is that he could be playing Spike in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which is running next door). He's encouraged his sparkplugs to play their characters to the hilt (and, perhaps even to ad lib some—Leavel seemed to be cracking up the other actors at times on opening night).

And, it worked. Lots of laughter made up for a lot of failed romance.

There's development still to do on Dog and Pony. In particular, act one could be trimmed, and the romantic promise of the Rainbow Room opening could be fulfilled with a love song, perhaps one that features multiple layers of meaning. But, for now, audiences can be treated to strong singing, and a lot of intelligent banter, enough, I think, to fill an evening nicely.

The Old Globe presents Dog and Pony, book by Rick Elice, music and lyrics by Michael Patrick Walker. Directed by Roger Rees with Lisa Shriver (Choreographer), Larry Hochman (Orchestrator), Kris Stone (Scenic Design), Emily Pepper (Costume Design), Cory Pattak and Jeff Croiter (Lighting Design), Scott Lehrer (Sound Design), Adam Wachter (Music Director), Tara Rubin Casting (Casting), and Anjee Nero (Stage Manager).

The cast includes Heidi Blickenstaff, Beth Leavel, Eric William Morris, Nicole Parker, and Jon Patrick Walker.

Performs through June 29 at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre on the Old Globe campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Ticket prices start at $35, and tickets may be obtained by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting http://www.oldglobe.org.


Photo: Jim Cox

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie



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