Tuesday, October 20, 2009

101 Dalmatians (The SOB Review)

101 Dalmatians (The SOB Review) - Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis, Minnesota

*1/2 (out of ****)

Given the wonderful seminal movie-going experience Disney's 1961 animated feature "101 Dalmatians" afforded me, I eagerly anticipated and chowed down on everything from its initial release on videotape and DVD to movie memorabilia to the 1996 feature film.

So when I learned that Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks would be helming a stage musical version, how could I resist? Turns out this tale is far from man's best friend.

When it comes to the non-Disney touring production of The 101 Dalmatians Musical that made its initial bow in Minneapolis last week, there's no beating around the bushes (which, parents should duly note, are apparently inhabited with dogs in serious heat). Unfortunately, it's all bow, with too little wow. Some of those gasps you're likely to hear are parents who are caught off-guard by several instances of off-color humor.

It would be easy for any wag to dismiss the tuner as one giant dog of a show, but that really wouldn't be fair to any canine. Its creators may insist that this 101 Dalmatians is meant to reflect Dodie Smith's original 1956 children's novel, but it readily becomes apparent that this is merely a feeble attempt to cash-in on the far superior Disney forebears.

Act One certainly shows some promise, including flourishes in its score reminiscent of the heyday for 70s rock band Styx. That's in part because it's been written by the group's front-man Dennis DeYoung. Unfortunately, the second act becomes hackneyed and the score is simply derivative.

But that's a mutt point if you deliver on what "101 Dalmatians" fans have enjoyed most about the earlier incarnations: the cute furry dogs and the fiendish Cruella DeVil. In this 101 Dalmatians, both aren't on stage nearly enough even if they represent the most satisfying aspects of the show.

With varying effect, the adult characters warily maneuver the stage in costumes built for stilts so as to appear larger than the the humans portraying Pongo, Missus and their own litter of puppies (played by children). To supplement these "dogs," up to 15 genuine dalmatians are used, along with what appear to be cardboard cutouts, to amass the quantities the title demands.

Sorry to say, these real dogs are only used at the end of each act. At the conclusion of the show, the real dalmatians chew the scenery quite literally by putting on a pleasing display of impressively stupid pet tricks. Considering that they elicit a much larger audience response than the rest of the show put together (with one notable exception that I'll get to in a moment), they demonstrate just how little meat is on this 101 Dalmatians' bones.

As for that exception, the enormously talented Rachel York is a delirious delight as the devilish Cruella. Despite being criminally underutilized, the wickedly funny York radiates the musical's only real heat whenever she blazes across the stage. She really sinks her teeth into the production and employs her considerable vocal skills to tremendous effect. York is also one of the few actors in this production who seems truly comfortable on those stilts.

Suffice to say, without York, 101 Dalmatians would just sit there with no bark and no bite. And that's a doggone shame.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 20 October, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

Great review, SOB. Too bad the show isn't as witty and clever! I have to say, the whole thing about actors on stilts sounds a bit weird. I had high hopes for this one. Oh well.

At 20 October, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

And I just wanted to add that it's unfortunate you can't have a show that appeals to adults and children without some misguided attempt to include off-color humor. I mean, talk about pandering to the lowest common denominator. Is that the only thing they think will keep the adults amused?

At 21 October, 2009, Anonymous BroadwayBaby said...

Would someone put Rachel York back in a vehicle that's worthy of her talents?

I am a huge fan of Rachel's. I have seen many productions of Anything Goes and her Reno Sweeney was the best I've ever seen.

At 21 October, 2009, Blogger vrigsbee said...

Steve, you crack me up: "that's a mutt point."

Happy to hear York shined even if the show itself bombed.

The Disney machine needs to reexamine why a show like THE LION KING continues to do so well - originality and stunning theatrical visuals.

Little Mermaid was nothing special and it sounds like this one wasn't either. They have the money - I wish they would invest the time to make something special again.

At 21 October, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Let me be clear, this 101 Dalmatians is not a Disney production. It could have used some of their magic.

At 21 October, 2009, Blogger vrigsbee said...

Oh! I've been thinking it was a Disney production this whole time ... fascinating. And I'll bet I'm not the only one who's made that mistake.

At 21 October, 2009, Blogger Bob said...

Sad. Rachel York deserves better. She always gets cast in crap -- but makes it shine.

At 21 October, 2009, Blogger me said...

Oh Man. This show screamed disaster from the first press release, though I wanted to believe it was going to rise above it, largely due to my adoration of Ms. York. Such a shame.

At 21 October, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Agree wholeheartedly that Rachel York deserves so much better. I went into 101 Dalmatians hoping for so much more, especially given the source material and some of the creative team (minus Disney, of course), but was sorely disappointed.

At 30 October, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I had read this review before going to the show... I totally agree! Rachel York was absolutely amazing and was the only part of the show that drew me in. It seemed like the show tried too hard to be for kids and for adults, and wasn't able to pull off either successfully. Having my 8 year old and 6 year old watch the extended death scene for Cruella was disturbing for me as a parent, and the off-color references were irritating. I was also dismayed at the beginning of the show to hear Pongo and Mrs. Pongo discussing how irritating they felt kids were... with rows upon rows of "Dalmations"-loving children sitting right there in front of them. I seriously doubt that the kids in the audience understood the torn feelings of parenthood repetitively repeated over and over again (yes, I did that on purpose) from one musical number to the next. And if the song being sung wasn't about responsibilities, then it was a "spot"-based pun that was the excuse for a song. (So much so that it made me think of the play within a movie "Elephant!" from the movie "The Tall Guy", with Jeff Goldblum.) I highly recommend that grown-ups, children and animals stay away from this production.

At 30 October, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks for sharing Anonymous. I agree wholeheartedly with your point that "It seemed like the show tried too hard to be for kids and for adults, and wasn't able to pull off either successfully."

I had hoped that the production would get its act together down the road of its tour. It doesn't sound like they have yet.

At 27 December, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh crud. Suppose it's too late to unloadthe 3 tix I have for this evening's show in Boston? :(


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