REVIEW: The 101 Dalmatians (Broadway in Chicago)

Children’s classic turned stage tragedy

 James Ludwig & The Company

Broadway in Chicago presents:

The 101 Dalmatians Musical

Based on “101 Dalmatioas” by Dodie Smith
Book adapted by BT McNicholl
Music by Dennis DeYoung
Lyrics by DeYoung and McNicholl
Directed by Jerry Zaks

Through February 28th (more info, tickets)

reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

Lest you confuse it with the classic Disney animated movie “101 Dalmatians,” the marquee in front of the Cadillac Palace proclaims that The 101 Dalmatians Musical  is within. Although to be sure, 1961’s more simply titled version also had music.  But that nearly 50-year-old gem is to the new Broadway in Chicago touring production what a real dog is to a pet rock. There is more suspense, heart and humor in the opening credits of 101 Dalmatians the movie than there is in the whole of The 101 Dalmatians the musical. 

Kristen Beth Williams - ect To be fair, my 8-year-old consultant on the project liked the stage show. But he wasn’t thrilled, as he was with Lookingglass Alice at Lookingglass, swept wholly away as he was with the Goodman’s A Christmas Carol or completely delighted as he was with Mary Poppins. Kids are smart – they can intuit when something’s being dumbed down for their supposed benefit. And make no mistake: Novelist Dodie Smith’s tale of noble canines and evil dognappers has been dumbed down horrendously. The original (both book and movie) were clever, cute and genuinely heart-warming. The touring show is shrill, condescending and precious. It is also a crass, obvious and cheaply produced attempt to make money. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with shows whose raison d’être is to make money. But when the fiscal concerns are more apparent than the artistic concerns, you’ve got a dog that don’t hunt. 

The cheapness of The101 Dalmatians Musical is apparent in both the cast and the production values. Led by a screechy Sara Gettelfinger as fur fetishist Cruella (replacing the originally announced Rachel York in the role), the ensemble performs at the level one might expect from a middle school variety show. It’s an Equity show, but you’d never guess that based on Warren Carlyle’s charmless choreography, Dennis DeYoung’s forgettable score and the mugging acting style favored by director Jerry Zaks.

The brief moments when the canine caper transcends the abrasive mediocrity that dominates the production arrive with the real Dalmatians. There’s a tease at the end of the first act, as the pooches pose in a tableau that sends the audience out to intermission on a high note. The dogs also get the spotlight (no pun intended) in an epilogue of clever animal tricks. Opening night, however, that final scene only highlighted the sloppiness of the humans involved with the show. This happened when a Dalmatian bounded out, got up on her hind legs and seemed to unfurl a window awning by turning a wheel of some sort. The illusion would have been pleasantly diverting if the person actually manipulating the window treatment had stayed out of sight. She didn’t, cruelly stealing the dog’s sunshine.

Catia Ojeda, Jeff Scott Carey & James Ludwig Madeleine Doherty, Mike Masters, Kristen Beth Williams, Erin Maguire & James Ludwig
The Company 3 The Company

As for the rest of the two-legged ensemble, director Zaks has the cast collectively subscribing to the louder-is-better school of acting. Every character is underwritten and broadly (over)played. Book writer BT McNicholl seems oblivious to the fact that character counts and simplicity doesn’t mean stupid, not even in the most fundamental children’s picture books. (Look at Where the Wild Things Are – a scant paragraph of prose, and a world entirely of unforgettable characters)  McNicoll reduces Smith’s story to a parade of flashy costumes and obvious punchlines.  Curiously, he doesn’t skimp on the sado-masochistic elements of the tale. One expects some frank talk about skinning puppies and turning them into gloves. But what’s with stressing Cruella’s violent death and having her cackle with unbridled glee as she discovers that she loves the sensation of flames devouring her flesh? Joel Blum & Emma ZaksFor a kid’s show, that’s just weird. And unless your name is Lemony Snicket, not entirely appropriate.

As for the corps of children playing the puppies, they’re burdened both with that drearily dumb book and choreography that will provide audience members of a certain age a flashback to Zoom, that ‘70s show that captivated Junior High School Nation back in the day with its Up-With-People-Lite dance routines and cereal box brand of relentless perkiness. The Dalmatian Musical kids are capable, but at Broadway in Chicago prices, one expects an ensemble that transcends your basic middle school aesthetic.

On the plus side, The 101 Dalmatians Musical does have a clever design concept. The actors playing humans are all on stilts, which provides the audience with a dogs’-eye-perspective on matters. Robert Morgan’s costumes and Heidi Ettinger’s oversize sets are original. And distracting. After the initial laugh was over, we found we spent an inordinate amount of time pondering where the actors’ real legs ended and where their stilt legs began. Also, how those gigantic shoes worked. Moreover, choreographer Carlyle can only do so much with performers on stilts, so the dancing never gets much more elaborate than a JV squad pom-pom routine.

Finally, there’s the puppies not played by kids. As newborns, the Dalmatians look like dead mops. Which, as descriptions go, might not make sense to those who haven’t seen The 101 Dalmatians Musical. But look like dead mops they do. And it is oh so very difficult to invest in a story that begins with the premise that one should care about a basket of fugly cleaning equipment.  

Rating:

The 101 Dalmatians Musical continues through Feb. 28 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 154 W. Randolph. Tickets are $18 $85, more if you want the Broadway in Chicago Concierge experience. For more information click here or go to www.the101dalmatiansmusical.com or www.broadwayinchicago.com or by calling 800/775-2000.   

James Ludwig & The Company 2

View (2010-02) The 101 Dalmations Musical

Addams Family set to go through Revisions

“Revisions” for ‘Addams Family’ before Broadway run

The Addams Family
Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre

As the musical begins, there are storm clouds gathering over the Addams Family home. Wednesday is falling in love, and guess who's coming to dinner?

Synopsis:
In this original story, the famously macabre Addams Family is put to the test when outsiders come to dinner, hurling Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Fester, Grandmama and Lurch headlong into a night that will change the family forever.
Show Advisory:
None
Genre:
Musical
Cast List:
Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth, Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello, Kevin Chamberlin, Jackie Hoffman, Zachary James, Adam Riegler, Wesley Taylor, and Krysta Rodriguez
Production Credits:
Direction and design by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch
Lighting design by Natasha Katz
Sound design by Acme Sound Partners
Puppetry by Basil Twist
Music direction by Mary-Mitchell Campbell
Orchestrations by Larry Hochman
Dance arrangements by August Eriksmoen
Hair design by Tom Watson

Special effects design by Greg Meeh
Fight direction by Rick Sordelet
Heidi Miami Marshall will serve as associate director

Other Credits:
Lyrics by: Andrew Lippa
Music by: Andrew Lippa
Book by: Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice The producers of Addams Family, set for a spring Broadway opening, have hired the Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks as a consultant for the $16.5 million production, attempting to revive the musical from its less-than-glowing reviews.

perhaps we were taking a little too much for granted assuming that the audience walks in with the relationship with the Addams family fully intact, and we didn’t appropriately reconnect the audience to the family members,” said producer Stuart Oken.

No one on the creative team has left the show or been fired, Mr. Oken said, with Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch still listed as the directors and production designers, and Mr. Zaks billed as creative consultant.

Mr. Zaks is close to Mr. Lane, having directed him in the long-running Broadway musical revivals of Guys and Dolls in 1992 and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1996, for which Mr. Lane won the Tony Award for best actor in a musical.

The musical’s lead producers, Stuart Oken and Roy Furman have admitted that the plot needed to focus more tightly on the Addams family members and that all roles, starting with Gomez (Nathan Lane) and Morticia (Bebe Neuwirth), needed their eccentric and subversive personalities clearly established in dialogue and song before the main action of the plot begins.

 

Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane 1

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