If you’re in the market for a fluffy puppy of a romantic musical comedy, one that licks your face even if it sometimes does its business on your leg, you might consider visiting A Dog Story, by Eric H. Weinberger (book) and Gayla D. Morgan (music/lyrics). Originally seen in Key West, A Dog Story was in development for four years before arriving at the Loft, a new black-box upstairs at the Davenport Theatre. It’s a friendly, if innocuous, 90-minute, four-character tail-wagger offering a Purina blend of romance with canine schmaltz.
Roland Newman (David Perlman), a New York lawyer and bachelor, thinks that if he’s ever going to make partner, he’s got to get married, like other partners at his firm. His chauvinistic best friend, Guy (Brian Ray Norris), practically a Trump surrogate regarding women, suggests he can find a mate if he gets a cute dog. Once the marital mission’s accomplished on their upcoming Hamptons vacation, Guy says Roland can abandon man’s best friend.
Roland, having fallen for businesswoman hottie Blair (Stefanie Brown) in the city, where she ignored him, gets a dog and immediately runs into her again in the Hamptons (it’s a musical comedy, folks), where seeing Roland with his new companion suddenly has her panting.
Cupid, the adorable puppy, insists on sleeping with his owner so Roland hires a businesslike (but cute) dog trainer, Miranda (Lindsie Vanwinkle), to train his pet. But it’s Roland himself who’s in need of a little discipline (wait for the dream scene with Miranda as a dominatrix), as becomes evident, not just in his relationship with Cupid, but in that with Blair, the potential bride who’s really more like an unleashed bitch in heat than someone looking to settle down. Roland doesn’t have to look far for Blair’s replacement; he could have used a few lessons in sniffing what was under his snout all along.
The most original thing in A Dog Story is the replacement of an actual animal by using pantomime to display its presence. The surprise that shows up toward the end, however, gets as big an “Ah!” of delight as you’ll ever hear in a 60-seat theatre. Most of the rest, while clichéd, contrived, and stereotypical, is sufficiently good-natured and appealing to keep you from going off in search of the nearest fireplug.
Justin Baldridge’s staging, which seats the audience on two sides of the space, is suitably active, its swift pacing helped by designer Lauren Mills’s arrangement on facing walls of white, Lucite cabinets. Their differently sized spaces allow for the disposal and retrieval of props, and even a Murphy bed. When lit from within by designer James Roderick they look like Mondrian designs. Travis Chinick’s costumes are colorful but they make Blair look more like a high-priced call girl than a high-class entrepreneur, while Roland’s clothes seem more Fire Island than Hamptons-chic.
Norris’s comically obnoxious Guy is a worthy second banana, and Vanwinkle’s curt Miranda nails the trainer while showing a sensual side during a bar scene. Brown’s Blair is a voluptuously attractive target, but Perlman is miscast as Roland. Placing him opposite Brown is like casting Jim Parsons opposite Beyoncé. When Blair does an over-the-top sex kitten routine and Roland finds himself more concerned with Cupid’s offstage whimpers than the flesh quivering before him, the sexual illusion crumbles before your eyes.
Morgan’s generic tunes—played on keyboard (Dylan MarcAurele, the music director), guitar (Lou Garrett), and reeds (Mike Livingston)—sound like music for actors who sing rather than singers who act. Most are narratives performed in speak-singing style. Among the catchier numbers is “Vacation/Training Tango,” in which Miranda and Roland dispute which deserves Roland’s attention more, his work or the dog, as they dance using a stapler and a clicking key fob as castanets. (Shannon Lewis did the choreography.)
I wish it were more fetching but some theatregoers may find A Dog Story cuddly enough to deserve a bite.
A Dog Story
The Loft at the Davenport Theatre
354 W. 45th St., NYC
Through March 6, 2017
Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).