A cutting-edge account of the cold-hearted Cold War in Off-Broadway’s ‘Space Dogs’ at MCC

Creators/performers Nick Blaemire and Van Hughes take a highly entertaining, astute, and affecting look at the cold-blooded values of the Cold War and man’s inhumanity to animals in the world premiere of their cutting-edge rock musical Space Dogs, playing a limited engagement at Off-Broadway’s MCC Theater. Directed with humor, heart, and youthful vibrancy by Ellie Heyman, the innovative post-modern production bombards us with well-researched facts and ethical concerns over the “race into space” that sacrificed so many innocent canines in the name of “progress.”

Nick Blaemire and Van Hughes. Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez.

The narrative is centered on the true history of Sputnik 2, its anonymous Chief Designer, and the adorable stray dog Laika who was so callously sent to her certain death in the Russian space capsule. It is conveyed through a non-stop kaleidoscopic mix of music and movement (choreography by Darrell Grand Moultrie), acting and puppetry (puppet design by Amanda Villalobos), high-tech projections and live-feed video (projection design by Stefania Bulbarella and Alex Basco Koch), direct-address commentary and audience interaction, all flawlessly delivered with rapid-fire energy by the multi-talented two-man cast.

The BFF duo effortlessly shifts from song to song (a total of fifteen, in a variety of contemporary styles, already released as an original cast album from Ghostlight Records, including the catchy eponymous anthem “The Space Dogs of the Cosmodrome”), instrument to instrument (electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, xylophone), character to character (with Hughes portraying the Chief Designer, Blaemire puppeteering and voicing Laika, and each parodying an assortment of other real-life figures from the 20th-century USSR and USA, with hilarious accents, attitudes, and demeanors). Both their vocal harmonies and their vigorous actions are in perfect sync at all times, without ever missing a beat through the entire 90 minutes of this rigorous, funny, and heartfelt theatrical lesson in history, moral principles, and the love of dogs.

Encompassing the themes of national pride and international competition to be first and best (which they show to be ridiculously childish in the battle between Russia and the USA – or the “Me-S-A”); the all-too-common political intrigues of secrecy, spying, strange bedfellows (with NASA hiring ex-Nazi aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun), and misinformation (known in non-political language as lying); and the betrayal of the bond, trust, and fidelity of our best canine friends, who Blaemire and Hughes clearly love, empathize with, laud (“History was changed by dogs!”), and mourn (questioning “Was it worth it?”).

Nick Blaemire and Van Hughes. Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez.

The action-packed emotionally expressive musical is supported by a high-sensory design, with haze effects, electrifying lighting by Mary Ellen Stebbins, and witty props by Villalobos, costumes by Haydee Zelideth Atuñano, sound by Nathan Leigh, and set by Wilson Chin that cleverly place us in the USSR, the US, and the cosmos.

As a devoted animal lover and vegetarian (not for my health, but for the health of the animals I’m not killing and eating), Space Dogs elicited my laughter, tears, and outrage, while spotlighting the many skills and heartfelt sentiments of Blaemire and Hughes. It’s the engaging work of a new generation of artists (which has already been extended beyond its original closing date), with appeal to an audience that appreciates something spirited and inventive – and also celebrates our furry friends.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, without intermission.

Space Dogs plays through Sunday, March 13, at MCC Theater, The Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater, 511 West 52nd Street, ground floor, NYC. For tickets (priced at $58-78), call (646) 506-9393, or go online. Everyone must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a valid photo ID to enter the building and must wear a mask at all times when inside.



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