By Kevin Del Aguila and Brad Alexander; Directed by Jen Wineman
Produced by TheaterWorksUSA
Off Broadway, Musical
Runs through 8.11.19
Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street
by Dan Rubins on 7.28.19
Forest VanDyke and Brian Owen (L-R) in Dog Man: The Musical. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
BOTTOM LINE: Part graphic novel, part musical, all fun.
They’ve outgrown drawing comic books and now they’re into writing graphic novels. But when they get kicked out of a production of Annie, 5th graders George and Harold take to their treehouse to make the next great leap as renaissance men: they’ll make a musical.
You may remember George (Forest VanDyke) and Harold (Dan Rosales) as the protagonists of the Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey. The Dog Man graphic novels—there are now six, with two more coming out later this year—are technically Captain Underpants spinoffs: Pilkey’s premise is that George and Harold have created them. But they’ve taken on a life of their own, which is why over-the-moon young readers will flock to see TheaterWorksUSA’s new musical adaptation of the Dog Man story.
The kids won’t be disappointed.
Dog Man: The Musical, which compresses several of the graphic novels into a ninety-minute show, is exactly the silly, buoyant burst of energy it sets out to be. That’s in large part due to the winning production, directed and choreographed by Jen Wineman packed with goofball sight gags from set designer Tim Mackabee (Monster buildings! Bionic fish!) and larger-than-life characterizations that audiences will be waiting for.
Standouts in the six-person cast, most of whom zig-zag through a variety of roles, include Crystal Sha’nae as the maniacal Flippy, a fish with dangerous intellectual powers, and Jamie LaVerdiere as Petey the Cat, a would-be villainous feline who falls prey to the saccharine mushiness of fatherhood when he tries to clone himself and produces instead a Li’l Petey (L. R. Davidson).
The central superhero storyline is ridiculous and exactly the kind of story that two inspired fifth-grade minds would invent: doctors fuse together a police officer’s body and a dog’s head after the cop and canine get caught in a bomb explosion, and Dog Man (Brian Owen)—“part man, part dog, all hero!”—is born.
And TheaterWorksUSA, probably to its credit, has very little focus on appealing to the parents with winking material that would go over the target audience’s heads: “I think I’ll call you Dumb Dumb Head” is the show’s biggest laugh line.
But Kevin Del Aguila (book and lyrics) and Brad Alexander (music) know their kid fans are no dumb dumb heads themselves: the pair has crafted a show that’s structurally sturdy and sophisticated in its storytelling. Frequent use of extended musical sequences with interweaving themes lends Dog Man a snappy sense of momentum. The creative team riffs on familiar musical theatre motifs in the songs, and in Wineman’s choreography, too—it’s a show that can serve as a delightful entry point into musicals for its youngest audiences.
Dog Man: The Musical is at its cleverest in its meta-theatrical moments. “Not now, mom! We’re talking to the audience!” George shouts down from his treehouse as he and Harold plan out the musical we are about to see. At the heart of the show are two nutty kids, discovering the joy of live theater for the first time. The audience might just be doing the same thing.
(Dog Man: The Musical plays at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, through August 11, 2019. The running time is 1 hour 20 minutes with an intermission. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7; Saturdays at 11am, 2, and 5 (only 2 pm on 8/10); and Sundays at 12 and 3. Tickets are $37 - $87 and are available at twusa.org or by calling 866-811-4111.)
Dog Man: The Musical is by Kevin Del Aguila and Brad Alexander, based on books by Dav Pilkey. Directed by Jen Wineman. Choreography by Jen Wineman. Set Design by Tim Mackabee. Lighting Design by David Lander. Sound Design by Emma Wilk. Costume Design by Heidi Leigh Hanson. Orchestrations by Lloyd Kikoler. Music Director is Noah Teplin. Stage Manager is Brendan J. O'Brien.
The cast is Forest VanDyke, Dan Rosales, Jamie LaVerdiere, Brian Owen, Crystal Sha'nae, and L. R. Davidson.