Theatre Review: “The 101 Dalmatians Musical” at Clowes

"The 101 Dalmatians Musical" - photo by Joan Marcus

Last Tuesday night I drove to Clowes Memorial Hall on the Butler University campus in Indianapolis to see the Broadway Across America professional touring production of “The 101 Dalmatians Musical.”  

It was marketed as a show for families with children of all ages, but it was a feel-good evening for this single adult, too.

101 thousand children were there with me but fortunately there was limited whining.  This was probably because a) Clowes Hall provided plenty of booster seats…

Booster seats at Clowes Hall (photo taken with my iPhone)

… and b) the show itself, while a little syrupy, didn’t insult anyone’s intelligence the way so many family shows do.  It was loud and fun and artistically satisfying…and dotted with several appearances from clever, adorable, live dogs.   Nobody had to be parented into paying attention: they just did.

Some of the children came dressed in black-and-white dappled dog costumes.  I spotted one mother-daughter pair in matching black-and-white polka-dotted party dresses.  I hadn’t thought to wear a black-and-white version of my uniform – patterned skirt and coordinating sweater set – but I enjoyed feeling caught up in the Family’s Big Night Out atmosphere anyway.

The things I loved most about the show itself include: the breath-catching stilt dancing; the exuberant human puppy dancing; the catchy encouragement in the “Be a Little Bit Braver” song; the delightfully engaging set; the endearing performances of the live dogs; and the full-on, hotly-evil-and-delicious PRESENCE of Sara Gettelfinger as the story’s villain, Cruella De Vil.

Dancing on Stilts!

 "The 101 Dalmatians Musical" - photo by Joan Marcus

In case you don’t know the story from the Disney movie or the original novel by Dodie Smith, it takes place in 1957 in London, England.  Mr. and Mrs. Dearly (Mike Masters and Erin Mosher*) want to have children, but so far, this hasn’t happened.  In the meantime, though, their Dalmatian dogs, Pongo (James Ludwig) and Missus (Catia Ojeda) “go into the bushes and get married” and then have several puppies.  So many puppies, in fact, that the Dearlys find a kind foster mother dog, Perdita (Gwen Hollander), to help take care of them.

One of Mrs. Dearly’s former schoolmates, fur fashionista Cruella De Vil, sees the dog family when they and their human pets are at the park.  Cruella lusts after their uniqueness.  She plots to steal the puppies and skin them when they have developed their spots in order to add them to her new fashion line. She succeeds by later diverting the Dearlys’ hilarious Nanny Cook (Erin Maguire) while her equally hilarious henchmen, Jasper (Michael Thomas Holmes) and Jinx (Robert Anthony Jones), sneak the puppies out of the Dearly home and whisk them away to join several other stolen puppies in Cruella’s dark mansion in northern England.

The humans in the story are played by humans who are on stilts under their clothes, so that they appear appropriately larger than the canines in the story that are played by humans. 

The humans on stilts shimmy and sway in their beautiful costumes as if they were born that way!  They are fascinating to watch, especially in the party scene in Cruella’s London home and in the park. 

"The 101 Dalmatians Musical" - photo by Joan Marcus

(Costumes by Robert Morgan.)

Sara Gettelfinger as Cruella De Vil is physically about the same size as the other stilt performers, but her big, gorgeous singing voice and her huge, glamorous stage presence combined with her svelte, sexy figure gave her a magnificence that made me gasp with delight.  Cruella shrieks a lot, but I am laughing with pleasure again, remembering how boldly talented Sara was.   I don’t find a photo of her in my media kit, but you can go to the show’s website (www.the101dalmatiansmusical.com)  to see a short video of her from the show.

The Human Puppies and “Be a Little Bit Braver”

"The 101 Dalmatians Musical" - photo by Joan Marcus

The Dearly puppies include a boy puppy named “Lucky,” played by Sammy Borla, and a girl puppy named “Patch,” played by Catherine Missal.  They and the other children/puppies tumble about just like real puppies and dance Warren Carlyle’s fun-to-watch hip-hop choreography with energetic grace.

"The 101 Dalmatians Musical" - photo by Joan Marcus

I especially loved it when the whole Dalmatian family danced and sang together during the reggae-esque song, “Be a Little Bit Braver.”  I hummed that song all the way home from the theatre and it is now my current favorite song to sing while getting ready to start my day.

The Fanciful Set and Its Special Effects

At first I wasn’t sure I liked the bright pastels and cartoon-like qualities of Heidi Ettinger’s scenic design.  However, there are many scene changes and by the end of the show, the overall set design, combined with Paul Gallo’s nimble lighting design and Peter Hylenski’s tantalizing sound design, had become one of my favorite elements, especially when I remembered that the story is being told from Prince, the narrator dog’s point of view.  (Prince is played with goofy heart by Joel Blum.)

The cartoony-pastel parts become richer over time as we become more invested in the Dearly/Dalmatian Family story, and the darker sets during the search for the stolen puppies have all kinds of engaging surprises.  There is a huge map of England that lights up to show Pongo and Missus’ progress, for example, and later on the set provides a new perspective on the action that is laugh-out-loud delightful.

Best of all, perhaps, is the final set, which has all kinds of openings and other features to allow the cast of live dogs to show off their tricks.

The Live Dalmatians

The live dogs are part of the show from the beginning, however, not just at the end.  I am a cat person rather than a dog person, but I know I was not the only person in the audience Tuesday night who was thinking about how charming it would be to have a live Dalmatian dog in my life.  The show’s Playbill (and my media kit) includes headshots not only of the human cast members but of the canine ones as well.  Here are Phoenix and Rascal, two of my favorites:

"The 101 Dalmatians Musical" - photo by G Creative

"The 101 Dalmatians Musical" - photo by G Creative

However, the Playbill also includes a caveat “About the Dalmatians”:

“The Dalmatians you see performing for you today are in need of loving, forever homes upon retirement from their acting careers.  Dalmatians are not for everyone.  Do your research before bringing one home!  You should not expect to have a Dalmatian as well-trained as those on the stage: they have spent months training with Joel Slaven and his crew.  You should expect an active, curious and loving friend who sheds a lot and requires mind-stimulating activities (daily runs after 18 months old, agility and/or obedience classes, Frisbee tossing, etc.).  Dalmatians do not like to be left alone, do not adapt well to being outside dogs, are light skinned and burn easily in the sun, are genetically predisposed to have problems processing purines, can be deaf, and live an average of 10-12 years.  Be prepared to make a lifetime commitment before adopting a Dalmatian.  With your dedication, they can be the best friend(s) you ever had!  For additional information and to learn how to adopt a Dalmatian, please visit www.GotSpots.org and www.thedca.org.”

So…I would not be a good “human pet” for any kind of dog right now, but I hope that all of the dogs find the right people for them.

Some of the proceeds from the show’s run in Indianapolis went to support the Indianapolis Humane Society.  I was particularly interested in the following paragraph from that press release:

“The show’s producers have created a special home for these extraordinary canines while on tour.  The dogs will travel in style in a one-of-a-kind customized bus being hailed as a ‘rolling doggie palace.’ Equipped with a grooming station and portable playground along with two trainers, these Dalmatian darlings will be treated like royalty.  After the tour, the rescued dogs will continue to live a well-pampered life as they will either be placed in loving homes or will continue to live on Joel Slaven’s sprawling Florida ranch.”

I feel lucky to have gotten to spend the evening with them.

Box Office and Other Credits

I also feel lucky to be going to every show in Broadway Across America’s season in Indianapolis.  Most of the shows are only here for a few days.  The final performance of “The 101 Dalmatians Musical” is tonight, Saturday, March 13, 2010.  (Update: Actually, no!  The final performance is TODAY, Sunday, March 14, 2010, at 1pm.  ‘Sorry for my mistake!)  For more information about all of this season and the next, please visit their website:   www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/indianapolis.

“The 101 Dalmatians Musical” was directed by Jerry Zaks.  (Book by BT McNicholl, music by Dennis DeYoung, and lyrics by Dennis DeYoung and BT McNicholl.)   It was produced by Magic Arts & Entertainment/Tix Corporation, Troika Entertainment, Luis Alvarez and Jon B. Platt, in association with Allen Spivak and Brad Krassner.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

Follow @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com, too, for quick observations immediately before and after each show I attend.

*All photos above taken by Joan Marcus, except for the dog headshots, which were taken by G Creative, and the photo of the booster seats at Clowes Hall, which was taken by me right after the show with my trusty iPhone.   The photo of the two sets of parents includes another actress for Mrs. Dearly, not Erin Mosher.

3 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “The 101 Dalmatians Musical” at Clowes”

  1. I liked the dog costumes and the first picture of your article. You describe the theater in a really good way. You are very lucky that you went to that show.
    thanx for your review.

  2. that’s wonderful,i’m a dog person myself and these pepole really doing the right thing.is there some video of the theatre?
    Thx!

  3. Wow those dalmatians are beautiful! That was some really good advice on making sure you do do your research on dalmatians before you purchase them. Some people don’t understand the level of commitment that’s required to have a dog like that. I really didn’t know several of those facts about dalmatians, which are essential facts if you want to successfully raise one!

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