Reviewers, though occasionally human, should always strive fiercely to stay objective. Impartiality might be an issue, however, when the show under review is a refreshingly cunning new canine version of Cats, and the critic--who rescues dogs on a regular basis--currently counts six dogs as his most beloved family members. That said, let's sweep potential personal prejudices out the doggie door, as this brightly inventive musical confection is a treat--and not some slobbery old Milkbone, either. Blessed with Kay Cole's delightfully quirky staging and choreography, this pedigreed champ easily wins Best in Show. With the exception of a couple of bittersweet tunes and some occasional mildly inappropriate behavior sure to go over kids' heads, this world premiere provides a rare opportunity for a whole family to enjoy theatre together.
The veteran purebred ensemble deserves a collective pat on the head. Merman-voiced Lauri Johnson is at her best as the caustic Molly, who admits in song that she hates when people use their gooey doggie-want-a-bone voice. "Just give me the f—-ing bone," she growls. She also brings an impressive bit of Billie Holliday to the proceedings with composer David Troy Francis' jazzy "Howling Just To Scare the Blues Away." Ginny McMath wins points as Boo, who goes nuts at night when alerted to a sound that turns out to be a leaf falling. Joe E. Brown–faced Joe Souza breaks hearts as a brave pooch facing death in "A Grassy Field,"--reminiscent of Cats' "Memory," without the ascending tire effect--as do Katherine Von Till and Joshua Finkel (in for Robert Mammana) as two frightened lost mutts shivering in a dog pound.
As charming and fanciful as is Cole's eye for directorial whimsy, Gavin Geoffrey Dillard and Robert Schrock's ever-clever lyrics are the highlight here. Any rhymester who can create a rap number featuring the uber-baritone Robert Alan Clink listing about a hundred breed names in breakneck time, and who can invent a way to mention Boston Terriers and Borzois in the same line, must be commended. Their work catches the musical Frisbee of fun with every throw.