A trio of utterly fabulous Broadway leading ladies led by the magical Nicole Parker are reason enough to catch The Old Globe’s latest World Premiere musical, Dog And Pony, though the show itself, despite Roger Rees’ effervescent direction, still needs a good deal of work.
Parker stars as Mags, whose screenwriting collaboration with “work spouse” Andy (Jon Patrick Walker) has yielded a dozen or so Hollywood hits, though apparently no romantic sparks between them, Andy having already taken the marital plunge long enough ago to have spawned a frisky teenage daughter with gun-nut wife Jane (Heidi Blickenstaff).
With so many smash movies under their belt, it’s no wonder Mags and Andy are being feted at this year’s Ketchum Komedy Honors (that’s Ketchum as in Ketchum, Idaho), a Q&A session with The Host (Eric William Morris) sending the now estranged writing partners back in time to the start of their latest (and apparently last) writing project: coming up with a screenplay to fit the pre-selected title American Madhouse.
A 4th Of July weekend has Jeff’s wife Jane wishing there were “One Less Pony” in their household, the well-intentioned long-ago gift to their only child having proven less than inspired in the ensuing years, the scene serving mainly to introduce us to the arms-bearing Jane and neighborhood hunk Jeff (Morris again), who’s dating Andy and Jane’s teen.
“Six Wednesdays” has our screenwriting duo in matching Algonquin Hotel terrycloth robes as they attempt to make movie magic for the umpteenth time … and failing miserably (while appearing seemingly unaware of just how naked they are under those robes).
This apparent cluelessness to each other’s opposite-sex appeal underlines the main weakness in Rick Elise’s amusing but in-need-of-work book. Are we supposed to root for Mags and Andy to take their best-friendship to the next level or aren’t we, a question of particular consequence since Andy has recently announced his and Jane’s impending divorce.
Romcom tradition tells us that we should want Dog And Pony’s two leads to merge. Harry and Sally may have been “just friends,” but we knew all along that they were made for each other. John Hughes fans figured out from the get-go that Some Kind Of Wonderful’s Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson were MFEO as well. And Dawson’s Creek devotees waited six seasons for Dawson and Joey to realize their destiny. (Okay, so she ended up with Pacey, but we all knew that this was just plain wrong.)
Dog And Pony can’t seem to decide what Mags and Andy’s relationship should turn out to be, and neither therefore can we, which leaves us with no one to root for, particularly when (spoiler alert) Mags meets a heaven-sent Joe (Morris one more time) and Andy meets the delightfully wacky but far less heavenly Bonnie. (End of spoiler.)
Without a clear sense of who we audience members should want to see coupled-for-life, there’s pretty much no way we can end up satisfied at final fadeout, particularly when book writer Elise chooses to end Dog And Pony in the most unsatisfying of ways. (The musical’s flash-backward-and-forwards structure proves confusing as well.)
Michael Patrick Walker’s songs are a good deal more successful, though perhaps more so lyrically than melodically. At the very least, Walker gives each of Dog And Pony’s three leading ladies her very own showstopper or two.
Parker’s is “What The Hell Am I Doing,” a manic treat that has Mags circling the stage at the wheel of one of those foot-propelled mini-convertibles we all wanted as children. Blickenstaff’s “Bonnie Doesn’t Get It” earns deserved cheers for the most English language-mangling character since Richard Brinsley Sheridan created The Rivals’ Mrs. Malaprop back in 1775. The divine Beth Leavel gets her own tour-de-force Jekyll & Hyde “Confrontation” as she alternates rapid-fire between Andy’s mom Rhoda and Mags’ mom Doris in “Problem Solved.”
Fresh from her triumphant performance as Fanny Brice in 3-D Theatricals’ Funny Girl, Parker once again proves herself as wonderfully winning a musical comedy leading lady as musical comedy leading ladies get—“Hello, Gorgeous” gorgeous, hilarious, and fabulously piped to boot.
The Tony-winning Leavel, Broadway’s original Drowsy Chaperone amongst countless other roles, can simply do no wrong, and everything she does in Dog And Pony is absolutely right, there being no one on this planet who can play quirky quite like she can … and sing sensationally along the way.
As for Blickenstaff, having seen five different actresses play her in [title of show], this reviewer could not have been more delighted to get to see “the real thing” onstage at the Old Globe, her finely delineated Jane and Bonnie both splendid creations, with an empathy on the later.
As for Morris, could there be a sexier or more appealing choice to play Ketchum Komedy Honors’ unctuous Host, Andy and Jane’s frisky neighbor Jeff (whose frequent shirtlessness reveals Morris’s to-die-for physique), and Mags’ made-in-heaven Joe? I don’t think so, and like his costars, Morris has Broadway pipes to boot.
Last but not least, the very talented Walker does his best with a confusingly conceived character, however since the writers seem unclear about Andy’s rightness for Mags, this reviewer finds himself equally conflicted about Walker’s rightness for the role.
Choreographer Lisa Shriver has created some delightful dance sequences, and Adam Wachter scores high marks as music director, conducting the production’s live underground orchestra as they perform Larry Hochman’s orchestrations.
Scenic designer Kris Stone makes imaginative use of the Sheryl And Harvey White Theatre’s in-the-round stage, assorted fixtures and props descending from above providing a nice extra touch. Emily Pepper’s costumes, Cory Pattak and Jeff Croiter’s lighting, and Scott Lehrer’s sound design are all topnotch as well.
Casting is by Tara Rubin Casting. Angee Nero is stage manager.
I was hoping to love Dog And Pony as much as I had 2011’s in-the-round Some Lovers. I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t much to recommend in The Old Globe’s latest. If nothing else, it makes crystal clear that Nicole Parker fits the title of Funny Girl Fanny’s very first song to a T—and that alone makes a road trip to San Diego and back well worth the drive.
Old Globe Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego.
June 14, 2014
Photos: Jim Cox