The upbeat, jazzy overture leads you to believe “Dog And Pony” will be a tuneful new musical. And the topic – the ups and downs of a successful screenwriting duo – almost promises fascinating characters.
But it soon becomes clear that Rick Elice’s story (with music and lyrics by Michael Patrick Walker) – now in its world premiere at The Old Globe’s White Theater – is not that but a comedy with forgettable music and main characters difficult to care about.
Mags (Nicole Parker) and Andy (Jon Patrick Walker) have been “work spouses” (he’s married, she’s single) for 13 years, with a string of 11 hits to their credit. She harbors romantic notions for reasons which become increasingly difficult to understand. He does not.
But right now, they’re stuck on the next script idea, for which they have only a title: “American Madhouse.” And the pitch meeting is in a few hours.
They get the job, then the action gets lost in talky exposition: Mags and Andy describe of the agony of their writing process; his wife Jane (Heidi Blickenstaff) talks about the pony they shouldn’t have bought for their daughter (“One Less Pony”); Andy reveals that he’s not only a needy, narcissistic jerk but a truly despicable one.
Mags suffers from a colossal lack of self-esteem – the only conceivable explanation for her romantic feelings for Andy. When she finally sings “What The Hell Am I Doing?” we wonder too, especially when he declares that he wants a divorce (and calls on Mags to “Be There” for him). Then he ends act one with this line: “We should get married.”
The second act finally kicks the show into high gear with the best scene and song – “Congratulations (What Happened)” – in which three imaginary weddings take place, ending each with “but that’s not what happened.”
And the wonderful supporting characters take over – Beth Leavel playing both mothers: Andy’s WASP mom Rhoda, dripping with jewelry, and Mags’ relatively colorless Jewish mom Doris.
Andy’s new love Bonnie (Blickenstaff) is afflicted with malapropitis, a problem which quickly lost its charm for me, well before the end of her malaprop-stuffed song “Bonnie Doesn’t Get It.”
“Dog And Pony” needs revision, but director Roger Rees could hardly ask for a better group of actors. Walker and Parker are fine and attractive, but need a better script.
Leavel is terrific as the moms, especially Rhoda. Blickenstaff shows versatility in playing both Jane and Bonnie with great skill. Morris is kicky in three parts.
The musical style is more singspiel or even recitatif than traditional musical comedy. There’s little in the way of melody; this is more dialogue with notes. We need a word for this form.
I’ve often wondered how screenwriters (or novelists, for that matter) come up with plot ideas. “Dog And Pony” tells me both more and less than I want to know, but even as is, it offers plenty of funny lines.
The world premiere of “Dog and Pony” plays through June 29 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.
Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.