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Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009

God Loves a Terrier

Theater Review

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Love. Betrayal. The societal mores of butt-sniffing. The Milwaukee Rep's production of Dogpark: The Musical wags a tale of four canines searching for romance, dignity and a missing owner in a Seattle area play-field. Propelled by an energetic cast that is more than equal to the clever material, Dogpark is an enjoyable 90-minute romp of laughs and creatively choreographed numbers.

A world-premiere written by Jahnna Beecham, Malcolm Hillgartner and Michael J. Hume, also responsible for the Rep's popular 06/07 They Came From Way Out There, the show is also directed by Beecham, who keeps the pacing crisp and uses the cast's considerable talents to quickly shift from occasionally somber introspection to outright hilarity.

Rep newcomer Jonathan Spivey is a hoot as Itchy, a neurotic mutt whose natural insecurity is aggravated by his owner's penchant to dress him in ridiculous dog sweaters. His frenetic performance raises hopes that he will return soon in future productions.

Returning from past Rep performances are Katherine Strohmaier as Daisy, the lone female of the pack who's reluctantly taking one more chance on finding love, and Lenny Banovez, whose outrageously funny portrayal of Champ, the vainglorious show dog, approaches but never quite crosses into camp.

Also returning is Chip Duford as Bogie, the imposing alpha-male whose territorial prowess belies an underlying sadness. Buford lends an air of gravitas to the proceedings, and generates perhaps the most laughs of the night. Especially outstanding is Strohmaier, who is on stage for nearly the entire show.

The engaging musical numbers range from longing solos "Someone, Somewhere, Someday," to the hip, "Deep Dog Doo Wop." The ensemble number "Gotta Pick Me," depicting canine speed-dating, is particularly memorable. The addition of an inventive and cute puppet chorus is so riotous as to prove almost distracting.

Never taking itself too seriously, Dogpark: The Musical is an accessible, welcome bit of off-leash fun. Runs through March 1 at Milwaukee Rep's Stackner Cabaret.

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