Review: Pets Are People, Too!

July 20, 2018 | By Bruce R. Feldman

“Mutt House,” Kirk Douglas Theatre, July 15 – Aug. 5, 2018

In Brief: Light on substance, but chock full of charm, gentle humor, and lively musical numbers – including a canine conga line – “Mutt House” is the perfect summer cooler for these stressed out times.

It’s not crazy to talk to dogs or expect them to talk back.

That’s the central premise of Mutt House, an endearing new musical with an equally affable cast that is divided between actors playing humans and those who play dogs.

Eddie and the pound dogs plead, "Get Me Outta Here!" (Photo: Daren Scott)

The story, from playwright Tony Cookson, is a parable of sorts. Its message of standing up to civic corruption, that one person can make a difference, may be not be original, but it still rings true and is welcome, nonetheless.

Shy animal shelter worker Eddie Corbin has a hard time talking with people. It’s a different story with the six abandoned dogs under his affectionate care: Donna, a tough-talking mongrel; Digger, a preening Labrador; the pit bull Bradley; the feisty Chihuahua Pepe; Max, an adorable, chubby corgi; and Sophie, a pedigreed poodle horrified to find herself locked up with riff-raff.

Eddie swings into action when he learns that the shelter is about to the closed for a real estate development that will line the pockets of the town’s mayor who plans to euthanize all of the dogs. He enlists the help of the mayor’s indifferent aide, Hannah Jenkins.

That by the show’s conclusion the pair succeeds in saving the shelter and falls in love, too, shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. It’s a musical comedy, after all.

Claire Adams as Hannah and Ryan McCartan as Eddie (Photo: Daren Scott)

As Eddie, Ryan McCartan is appropriately nerdy and introverted. He sports a pleasant singing voice. Claire Adams is fine, too, as an icy, unsympathetic Hannah who changes her tune after learning to love Eddie and the dogs.

Heather Olt has a lot of hammy fun as the pompous, two-faced mayor, presenting herself as a paragon to voters while secretly plotting a lucrative land deal. Her brief rap number is a hilarious highlight.

But it’s the six inventive, gifted actors portraying the mangy mutts that make the show the pleasurable affair that it is. Each has a distinct personality. All sing, dance, and mug cheerfully.

The songs by John Daniel, Robb Curtis Brown, David O, and Cookson are agreeable enough. They’re serviceable more than memorable, but manage to effectively convey the warmth, spirit, and comic sensibilities of the dogs, in particular.

Director Ryan Bergmann keeps the show forward moving nimbly.

The mutts with Mayor Jenkins (Heather Olt), Eddie, and Hannah (Photo: Daren Scott)

Janet Roston imbues her snappy, infectious choreography with canine mannerisms that are both funny and adorable. (Audiences can see more of her outstanding work on the production of Cabaret currently at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood.)

Every musical should have a big opening number, and Mutt House doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Rolston’s staging of the pound animals singing Get Me Outta Here! is terrific.

Mutt House doesn’t make demands on its audience. Instead, it entertains, tugs at your heart, and lifts your spirits. That’s more than enough reason to hurry to the Kirk Douglas Theatre before the show closes on August 5.

“Mutt House,” Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 213-628-2772, www.MutthouseTheMusical.com

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