The eponymous part-man/part-canine superhero of writer and cartoonist Dav Pilkey’s worldwide #1 best-selling children’s graphic-novel series Dog Man (with over 50 million copies in print and translations in 42 different languages) is back on the NYC stage in Dog Man: The Musical for a limited run at Off-Broadway’s New World Stages, following a highly acclaimed engagement at the Lucille Lortel Theater in 2019. Produced by TheatreWorksUSA, the hilarious and heartening family treat by Kevin Del Aguila (original book and lyrics based on Pilkey’s popular stories) and Brad Alexander (music, with orchestrations by Lloyd Kikoler), is lots of fun for kids, cleverly engaging for adults, and totally uplifting for everyone who believes that we should all get along, whether dog, cat, fish, bird, kitten, human, or any of their imaginative sci-fi variants.
Directed and choreographed with high energy, humor, and heart by Jen Wineman, the irresistible show, set “right this very second” inside an expansive treehouse with a desk, is framed in the meta-theatrical device of BFFs George and Harold, who’ve been creating comic books “for years,” telling us that they’ve decided to try their hands at writing a musical about their favorite character, the adorable crime-fighter and “good boy” Dog Man, now that they’re in the fifth grade. The story moves back and forth between the kids’ direct-address updates on what’s going on (including taking a lunch break from writing, which will also give the audience time to use the restrooms) and enacted scenes, with sixteen musical numbers, from their epic adventure-in-progress.
For those unfamiliar with the backstory of the iconic cartoon hybrid, Dog Man is the result of surgery following a bomb explosion that severely injured a cop from the neck up and a pooch from the neck down, saving both by attaching the dog’s unimpaired head to the policeman’s intact body. Though he can’t speak like a person and still has all the behavioral traits of a canine, he becomes “all hero,” bravely taking on the officer’s job of law enforcement to stop the villainous activity of his arch-nemesis Petey, an evil cat who has cloned himself into what he hoped would be his identical partner in crime (but emerged as the adorable, loving, and not-yet-grown kitty Li’l Petey), and the cyborg fish Flippy, who was accidentally fed the wrong food and transformed into a deadly menace, commanding an army of Beasty Buildings brought to life, which threaten the city.
The show’s witty references to Annie, Hamilton, and A Tale of Two Cities will go over the heads of most of the younger viewers but will amuse the adults, as will the range of music and dance styles from Broadway chorus line to vintage disco, all executed with vitality by an enthusiastic and “supa” talented cast of six, switching from supporting ensemble roles to their main characters. DeShawn Bowens as George and Dan Rosales as Harold capture the spirit of childhood and youthful imagination as they invent their first musical and share their thoughts with the audience, and Brian Owen is a howl as the titular Dog Man, adopting the fetching personality and familiar mannerisms of his species, sniffing and rolling over, barking and howling, and faithfully protecting his friends, city, and community from danger, death, and destruction.
As the unexpectedly unlike Petey and Li’l Petey, Jamie LaVerdiere’s bad cat is hysterically mean, diabolical, and vain, in contrast to his lovable polar-opposite mini-me, played with relentless kittenish charm by L.R. Davidson, bonding with Dog Man, singing a “Happy Song,” responding to Petey’s “The Evil ABCs” with positive upbeat words that begin with the same letters, and setting a good example of love and kindness for her daddy – and all of us – to follow. Rounding out the terrific cast is Crystal Sha’nae as Flippy, whose soulful powerhouse performance of “I’m Back” is one of the musical highlights of the thoroughly delightful production.
A colorful artistic design – with a set by Timothy R. Mackabee, captivating bird and fish puppets, costumes by Heidi Leigh Hanson, lighting by David Lander, and sound by Emma Wilk – combines an appropriately cartoonish look and superhero tone with the makeshift feel of kids putting on a show.
For fans who can’t get enough of this beloved doggy do-gooder, the original cast recording of Dog Man: The Musical is now available from Broadway Records and Dav Pilkey’s newest book in the series, Dog Man: Twenty Thousand Fleas Under The Sea, will be released on March 28. And be sure to catch him live on stage in this fabulously funny family-friendly musical with a momentous message – not to be mean but to be loving, like Li’l Petey and Dog Man.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, including an intermission.
Dog Man: The Musical plays through Sunday, April 30, 2023, at New World Stages, 350 West 50th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $50-116, including fees), go online. Masks are optional but recommended.
For a preview of the show, you can watch the trailer below: