San Diego Theater Review: DOG AND PONY (World Premiere musical by Rick Elice and Michael Patrick Walker at The Old Globe)

Post image for San Diego Theater Review: DOG AND PONY (World Premiere musical by Rick Elice and Michael Patrick Walker at The Old Globe)

by Tony Frankel on June 7, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

HARDLY THE ANIMAL IT WANTS TO BE

Beth Leavel as DorisLife comes to this new chamber musical, but only in the center of the second act, giving a hint of what the creators intended. Unfortunately, the flimsy premise and one-dimensional protagonists in librettist Rick Elice and composer/lyricist Michael Patrick Walker’s Dog and Pony result in a book with slick sit-com dialogue and songs that stubbornly refuse to stick, forward plot, and/or define character.

An extraordinarily successful screenwriting team is being interviewed before a live audience (us) at The Ketchum Komedy Honors in Idaho. The film festival has just screened their eleventh movie, and Mags and Andy, platonic but stuck at the hip for 13 years, divulge secrets and bicker as if they were on the Maury Povich show. The fact that they air their dirty laundry is wholly unbelievable. They are also unappealing characters from the start—he’s vainglorious and she’s somewhat spineless—so it’s difficult to care about their flashback of the previous year when we know how they’ll end up (a problem that Merrily We Roll Along has been trying to solve in production after production).

Jon Patrick Walker as Andy, Nicole Parker as Mags, and Eric William Morris as The Host

The duo are having trouble writing their latest script when Andy announces to Mags he is splitting up with his wife; perpetually single Mags wonders if this may be a sign the two are meant to be something more. Along the way we hear from Andy’s sarcastic mom, his wife, and his neighbor (over whom Mags drools). But their relationship goes nowhere, and each finds a new romance. That’s the story.

Heidi Blickenstaff as Jane, Eric William Morris as Jeff, Beth Leavel as Rhoda, Jon Patrick Walker as Andy, and Nicole Parker as Mags

Elice (Jersey Boys, The Addams Family, Peter and the Starcatcher) certainly has a way with funny lines, but the laughs don’t stick because the dialogue could spout from any sit-com character (“Thank you for telling me what I already know—you should be on MSNBC”). The two most enjoyable characters—and the ones responsible for the life in Act II—are Andy’s new girlfriend Bonnie, a malapropism-spouting bimbo (played convincingly by Heidi Blickenstaff, who also plays the wife) and the wise-cracking mom (played with crackerjack comic timing by The Drowsy Chaperone’s Beth Leavel, who gets a funny number wherein she plays both Andy and Mag’s mothers at the same time). Yet the malapropisms grow tedious and implausible, and the mom has no back story to justify her malice.

Eric William Morris as JeffUnder Roger Rees’s occasionally diverting in-the-round direction, Nicole Parker as Mags, and especially Jon Patrick Walker as Andy, flounder with mannered acting in search of a character. At least Parker gets a chance to shine by being goofy when she panics while pedaling a toy car in circles on the way to Andy’s house during a cute Vaudevillian number, “What the Hell Am I Doing?” Eric William Morris is charming as the neighbor, the host, and Mag’s new love interest.

Walker successfully used pastiche to create Altar Boyz, the Boy Band parody, but here we get a series of riffs (and terrific orchestrations) that tell me Walker would be great at writing jingles. Sometimes, the music is jaunty and fun, but the cabaret-style tunes are all over the map, and we are left doing the work trying to locate the melody line. The bland pop sound of “Feels Like Christmas” (“It Finally Feels Like Christmas Because Of You,” Andy and Mags incongruently sing to each other) is derivative of The Carpenters or a Hallmark Card.

Flashbacks, modern references, actors doubling up on roles, a songwriter who can’t write book musicals, a de rigueur Christmas song, the ditzy blonde, the hunk who takes his shirt off, characters with writer’s block, a paltry 10-minute story stretched out to 140 minutes, cardboard protagonists, and dramatics lacking conflict and an arc all presented by knockout Broadway talent—no wonder this is the same old dog and pony show.

photos by Jim Cox

Dog and Pony
The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park
Tues and Wed at 7; Thurs and Fri at 8;
Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
scheduled to end on June 29, 2014
EXTENDED to July 6, 2014
for tickets, call 619.437.6000 or visit www.TheOldGlobe.org

Comments on this entry are closed.