San Diego, CA---I’m sure there’s something wonderful buried under all that dog and pony hype, yet it barely surfaces in the Globe’s newest attraction, the musical comedy “Dog And Pony” by Rick Elice (Book) and Michael Patrick Walker (Music and Lyrics). They’re the same team behind “Jersey Boys”, “Peter And The Starcatcher” and “Alter Boys”. Minor characters and Roger Rees’ fine direction are the game savers.
“Dog And Pony” is in a world premiere at The Old Globe through July 6th . It will need some careful flushing out of the two central characters to have any meaningful impact. The male lead Andy, boldly played by Jon Patrick Walker, has to be the world’s biggest self centered, egotistical jerk. He keeps holding out the proverbial carrot to his writing partner Mags in the hope that someday something more permanent might result from their working relationship. Forget it. He’s terminally narcissistic, his words.
His counterpart, Mags (Nicole Parker) is smart, jaunty and cute but has zero to no self-respect or confidence, yet she keeps hanging around this jerk, (she thinks she loves him) for the sake of a ‘story’ and in the hopes that someday she will catch up and nab that carrot. She’s an obsessive workaholic, her words. Between the two, there isn’t much to like. Thank goodness the other three in the cast infuse this new musical with wit, humor and great energy.
The ‘story’ or ‘dog and pony show’ (Together they wrote over a dozen movies) Mags is referring to has yet to be written. They’ve hit a brick wall with only a title, American Madhouse, but no beginning, middle or ending. Mags and Andy have been together as a screen writing team for what seems like forever. Their professional relationship has pumped out hit after hit. It’s their personal relationship, whatever that looks like, that is under scrutiny here.
He’s married, and no big surprise here, it’s on the rocks. She’s afraid to venture out too far from the playing field in case he throws her the proverbial bone, which of course he does with a little nudging from her. The big questions are, will they or won’t they…come up with another hit screenplay and will they or won’t they get together as a couple outside of their coupling as work related?
We find them slow dancing (‘Slow dancing is part of the creative process’) atop the Rainbow Room under a chandelier looking very smitten together. The fact is, it’s ten in the morning and in a few hours they have a meeting with the big wigs to try to sell a ‘story’, which they don’t have. “What are we going to say in the meeting?”
We never do find that out. In fact we see them but once in the process of working their craft but too little too late. Their story is series of flashbacks. In one big scene they are being interviewed at the Komedy Korner at Ketchum Komedy Honers in Ketchum, Idaho. MC and Host masterfully played by Eric William Morris (who does triple duty in the show), has his finger on the perfection button, he’s terrific. (“The Nature of Our Collaboration”)
Unfortunately, we’re left on the sidelines with all kinds of other distractions that really don’t add up to much as we are suddenly at Andy’s house in Connecticut on the fourth of July. This is where we meet up with Andy’s militant wife Jane (Heidi Blickenstaff) who hasn’t seen a camouflage outfit she doesn’t want to wear or rifle she doesn’t want to shoot.
Her newest outfit is ‘silk-screen bark', photographed to look like a tree. ‘When the deer sees her, he thinks it’s a tree. Except, in this case, the tree has a gun’. Her two favorite stores at the Mall are the ammo Store ‘Guns R Us’ and Donald’s Duck Decoy’.
The story clunks along without moving their relationship from A to B. Rhoda (Beth Leavel) is the best thing that happened to this play), Andy’s mother comes to his place to help celebrate. She snaps that 4th of July is family time and why isn’t Mags with her own family? She’s caustic, insulting and somewhat of a bitch, but she has some of the best and funniest lines in this musical play.
Leavel is also loaded with more energy than the rest of the cast put together especially when she takes on the role of Mags’ ‘Jewish’ mother, Doris and Andy’s wasp mother, Rhoda in alternating scenes. Mags’ Jewishness comes from nowhere when she (Mags) is visiting Andy at Christmas time. If the whole sequence weren’t so funny, it would be offensive…well. “You know us crazy Jews”, explains Mags trying to clarify that Chanukah comes at a different time every year.
Hope rings eternal when Andy tells Mags that he is divorcing Jane and asks if will she wait for him? “I think we should get married”. (“Better”). One of the most engaging scenes of the play happens in Mags’ imagination. Several incarnations of their wedding day plays out only to reveal… “Except”…it didn’t happen. “Not even a little”.
After the divorce, it doesn’t take much time for Andy to introduce Mags to his newest squeeze, Bonnie (Heidi Blickenstaff). She’s just full of malaprops. “You want Bonnie to call and use her affluence?” “Well pardon my nativity”. And so it goes.
Elice and Walker have an idea that’s not novel, but could be more convincing if we had a better sense of the lead characters, who and why they are and perhaps see a bit of a coming together, some growth that is more genuine and substantial. There is really not much to admire or even care about in this entire group.
Of the fifteen or so musical numbers just a few jump out: “The Nature of Our Collaboration”, “Better”, “Bonnie Doesn’t Get It.” and “One Less Pony. Of the group “What The Hell Am I Doing Here?”is the best and most memorable. Parker shows her comedic skills to perfection here.
The light at the end of the narrow tunnel for ‘Dog And Pony’ is that with some tweaking, cutting (the first act is too long) it could be more fun than it pretends to be. Some honing in on character development will help.
Even if the endgame finds Andy and Mags eventually finding each other outside the workplace, which they won’t (my assumption) Mags could certainly use some more gumption in her column. As far as Leavel and Blickenstaff are concerned they pretty much steal the show especially in the second act. Both capitalize on their comic skills and musical strengths. Next let’s elevate their status to more than a one-note dog and pony show.
Larry Hochman’s orchestrations are crisp and Lisa Shriver’s choreography shows off Parker and Walker’s talents as they tip the light fantastic. Both are vocally strong. In fact the entire cast oozes with talent and director Rees takes full advantage of those skills. Would that they had a better book to work with.
Hats off to music conductor Adam Wachter and his fine musicians hiding somewhere under the stage but clear as a bell. Lighting designers Cory Pattak and Jeff Croiter make Katchum Komedy studio a bright place to live. Emily Pepper’s costume design for the three different roles Eric William Morris plays are worthy of a look see and Kris Stone’s set design is pretty minimal with risers and platforms giving the actors a little more room to spread their wings, but the upside down floating Christmas tree? Well that’s worthy of a thumb’s up!
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through July 6th
Organization: The Old Globe
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park.
Ticket Prices: Start at $35.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre