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Space Dogs

Theatre Review by David Hurst - February 13, 2022

Nick Blaemire and Van Hughes
Photo by Daniel J Vasquez
It's hard to imagine what the artistic directors at MCC were thinking when they selected Van Hughes and Nick Blaemire's inexplicable new musical, Space Dogs, for inclusion in their season. Despite being given a lavish production totally unworthy of its source material, the kindest thing that can be said about this 90-minute, intermission-less show is that Hughes and Blaemire, best friends who wrote and star in Space Dogs, appear to be having fun. Sadly, the same thing can't be said for the audience.

A stupefying dramatization of the Russian cold-war space program during the years they launched dogs into the heavens (1951 to 1966), Space Dogs culminates with a singing, Moscow street-dog named Laika rocketing to the stars aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957. For most sane people, Laika and her furry friends are a footnote in history that might pass muster as a quick anecdote at a dinner party. But it's hardly a story to build an evening's entertainment around and, as you might imagine, Space Dogs wears out its self-indulgent welcome in a matter of minutes. Even the adorable stuffed animals, of which there are dozens, and the endless use of television cameras and monitors to make their libretto seem relevant can't conceal "there is no there there," to quote Gertrude Stein, who adored dogs.

Hughes and Blaemire have said in interviews that Space Dogs was the result of their tinkering around during the pandemic and, to be sure, they're both charming and not untalented. (This is despite Blaemire's disastrous score for 2008's Glory Days, one of the most notorious one-night flops in Broadway history.) Musically, the Space Dogs score is rudimentary at best and uninspired at worst. The writers employ lots of one-note repetition to which they've crafted stream-of-consciousness recitative and an endless stream of harmony singing, almost always in thirds. Unintentionally hilarious are their Russian accents, of which there are many. They try to sound Russian, but only succeed at sounding like The Count on "Sesame Street." And they self-referentially break the fourth wall frequently, which is more eye-rolling than it is a hip, theatrical device.

What's surprisingly great about Space Dogs is the expensive production it's receiving from a group of talented designers who have spun a lot of straw into a little bit of gold. Wilson Chin's scenic design blends industrial with techno to create a dazzling set that incorporates eye-popping lighting by Mary Ellen Stebbins, fun projections by Stefania Bulbarella and Alex Basco Koch, and amazing (and endless) puppets and props courtesy of Amanda Villalobos. The somewhat restrained sound design, which includes amateurish backing tracks to which Hughes and Blaemire sing, is handled by Nathan Leigh. But, ultimately, as great as Space Dogs looks on the stage at MCC, all the window dressing in the world can't save a show that's literally a dog.

Space Dogs
Through March 6, 2022
MCC Theater
59E59 Theaters, Theater, The Robert W. Wilson Mcc Theater Space
511 W 52nd St, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: