Dog Man: The Musical, Show Review by Andrea Santo Felcone

When I first heard they were making a musical based on the “Dog Man” graphic novels by Dav Pilkey, (of “Captain Underpants” fame), I wasn’t exactly sure what to think. I knew the “Dog Man” books were extremely popular–the demand is high in my son’s elementary school library. (To lend some perspective on the popularity, Pilkey’s “Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild” had an initial print-run of 5 million copies.) So, while I knew a musical could potentially tap into that popularity, would a musical format of this material be successful?

Dog Man: The Musical

Dog Man: The Musical, photo credit by Jeremy Daniel

Curiosity won out, so on Thursday, July 4th, my family and I entered the Lucille Lortel Theatre for an early afternoon showing of “Dog Man: The Musical” wondering what we would find. The overarching concept (of both books and musical): two best friends, George and Harold, create comic books together—Harold draws the illustrations, while George writes the stories down. They began their successful run as comic strip creators after initially being sent to the hall for detention (an autobiographical fact about author Pilkey himself). Later, the boys are often found creating comic strip stories in their treehouse. The treehouse is what greets you on stage when you first enter, charming with its partial ‘dotted’ effect, one that mimics the way printed comic books look. This sets the stage for what unfolds: a comic strip story come to life.

Now that George and Harold have tackled the 2-dimensional world, they are set on creating their first musical; but can they finish before lunch? The idea of characters creating a musical, while the actual musical is in progress–this meta, self-referential element–is a clever way to bring the audience into the story (as well as into the process of the show’s book and lyrics writer: Kevin Del Aguila). We can imagine Del Aguila asking himself the very same questions that George and Harold are asking themselves: How is this 2-dimensional comic-strip world going to be handled in 3-dimensions–on stage, and in the form of a musical? In a single word: brilliantly.

If you know anything about Kevin Del Aguila (book and lyrics) and Brad Alexander (music) you know they are the Emmy-winning duo of such PBS hits as “Peg + Cat”. They do not disappoint with this “Dog Man” adaptation. It remains very true to the books, and yet entertains as a musical. For those unfamiliar with Pilkey’s “Dog Man” stories in general, there is a simple premise for how Dog Man came to be (and you must suspend your disbelief now): Bumbling Police Officer Knight and his “supa” (yes, super is spelled “supa” throughout Pilkey’s books) smart dog Greg, are trying to de-activate a bomb. Officer Knight asks Greg for his advice on which wire to cut and when the dog says, “Grr…” Knight interprets that to mean “green” and he cuts the green wire. It isn’t until after the bomb explodes that Officer Knight remembers that Greg is color-blind. (To enact the explosion, one of the cast members opens an umbrella with the words “KA-BLOOEY” on it, just as the bomb explodes. A great detail.) Unfortunately, although Knight’s body is alive, “his head is dying,” and the opposite is true for his faithful pup (which is perhaps fortunate as the dog is the brains of the two). So, when the emergency room nurse suggests they sew the head of the dog onto the body of the police officer, everyone agrees this is the best solution, and thus, “Dog Man” is born! (The operating scenes are very cleverly staged.)

Dog Man: The Musical

Jamie Laverdiere as Petey, photo credit: Jeremy Daniel

What follows over the course of this 85-minute production (one intermission) is a series of action sequences ripped straight from the pages of Pilkey’s “Dog Man” books. With the talent that has been assembled for this show, the fun starts as soon as the action begins. “Dog Man” (you really believe actor Brian Owen is a dog) has to fight his arch-rival, “Petey” (Jamie Laverdiere plays the evil cat–deliciously) and “Flippy” (Crystal Sha’nae as the evil fish, the rich flavor she gives to her songs is truly inspired). Flippy has accidentally consumed “Brain Dots” and can now move things with her mind—which she uses to her evil advantage. She eventually becomes a cyborg (again, just roll with it). Another standout is L.R. Davidson’s adorable Li’l Petey—the clone gone wrong. Li’l Petey was supposed to be the evil apprentice to Petey, but he’s just too sweet and eventually starts to rub off on his “Papa” Petey. Each cast member succeeds in bringing this material to life.

Brad Alexander’s music is catchy, Kevin Del Aguila’s lyrics are delightful, with standouts such as “The Evil ABC’s” (L.R. Davidson and Laverdiere); “Revenge” (Flippy/Crystal Sha’nae); and “Robo-Dance Party” (L.R. Davidson). Lyrics like, “Got a Cop Frame, And a Dog Brain, Kinda Sounds Wrong, Even All Insane!” in the “Dog Man!” number inspire the audience to leave the theater singing and dancing.

Dog Man: The Musical

Photo Credit by Jeremy Daniel

TheaterWorks USA creates accessible theater experiences for families. In “Dog Man” they have a perfect pairing, as this is just the kind of musical content that children who are unfamiliar with (or even wary of) musicals, will like (in the same way that Pilkey draws reluctant readers into reading his books).

Sitting in the theater watching “Dog Man: The Musical” is like being inside a comic-strip: fun, lively, colorful, and zany. This musical does what all great children’s entertainment does, includes what is entertaining for kids (slapstick, some mild potty humor) as well as enough witty content to amuse older children, teens, and adults. Even if, like my husband, you have never read a Pilkey book, or ever heard of “Dog Man,” the show is truly enjoyable. While “Dog Man” may be “part dog, part man … all hero,” his musical is … all heart. Don’t miss out, the show runs until August 4.Dog Man: The Musical

At the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street, NYC)

Presented by TheaterWorks USA, Barbara Pasternack (Artistic Director) and Michael Harrington (Managing Director)

Book and Lyrics by: Kevin Del Aguila

Music by: Brad Alexander

Based on the “Dog Man” series of books by Dav Pilkey

Cast: L.R. Davidson (Li’l Petey); Jamie Laverdiere (Petey); Brian Owen (Dog Man); Dan Rosales (Harold); Crystal Sha’nae (Flippy); Forest Vandyke (George)

Scenic Design: Tim Mackabee; Costume Design: Heidi Leigh Hanson; Lighting: David Lander; Sound: Emma Wilk

Directed and Choreographed by: Jen Wineman

Tickets start at $31.00, to purchase:

Tags: , , ,