Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Bark! The Musical is going to have a much stronger appeal to dog people than to the general public; the score is uneven, with all of the strongest songs coming in the second half. Even when they are not great songs, a dog person can still connect with the emotions. "Whizzin' On Stuff" is something we dog owners instantly get as we watch our male dogs see how high they can cock the right leg to mark a tree, or our females try and position themselves just so to claim some fabulous treasure that for a brief moment in time will belong to them alone, until some other dog comes along to leave their pee mail. Hound lovers everywhere will relate to "Howling Just to Scare Away the Blues," while every dog owner who has ever had a mishap with "critters" will shudder at "Dirty, Filthy Old Flea Bag." A couple of book scenes are also poignant, especially one in which Golde, owned by a Jewish family and fed everything they eat, describes her bond with them.
The Kiwanis Theater acoustics are unkind to female voices, making it hard to understand lyrics by the three ladies, which is not their fault. Andrea Keddell, after a run in the season opening Cats, plays Chanel, a champion poodle owned by a gay man who adores her, She makes a highlight of "Il Cane Dell'Opera," which is about Chanel sharing the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera broadcasts with her master. Carl Bowman plays King, an older dog. I imagine him as a hound mix, but it is not specified. His best numbers are "I'm in Love with Lassie" and "A Grassy Field" as he prepares for the end, which had me bawling. Jason Moore plays Sam, proudly a mutt (although I prefer the term Finely Bred American Canine). He rocks the theater with "M-U-T-T Rap," in which he disses an alphabetical list of breeds, and "Senorita La Pepita," about being dressed up by his owner.
Kris Sethi is Golde and has a hilarious song about the dreaded "Elizabethan collars" called "Cones." She is also excellent delivering "Howling Just to Scare Away the Blues" at the top of act two. Ashley Cronkhite plays Boo and tells about "Guarding Janie," her mistress. Tahj Malik plays puppy Rocks, who hasn't found his voice yet, although the company tries to teach him to just "Bark" at the conclusion of act one. He perfectly captures exuberant youth, fearful yet ready to explore and learn.
I love the fact that we have a racially and age diversified cast in this show. All of the solo material is stronger than the ensemble work which hadn't blended as of opening night. Hopefully some extra performances will help with that.
Bark! The Musical is directed and choreographed by Kelly Burnette. The performance of the choreography did not have as much zip as I might have liked on opening night but that might be the result of fatigue after tech night and dress rehearsal. Musical direction by Michelle Neal also lacked ideal energy but kept ensemble songs together. Set design by Ralph Nurmela is colorful and captures the whimsy inherent in the piece. Costume design By Georgina Willmott is perfect, not trying to be realistically dog-like but still conveying a sense of each dog's personality. Patrick Bedell contributes outstanding lighting design.
When two of my favorite organizations, Manatee Players and The Humane Society of Manatee County, come together, I hope for a super big, huge success. The show is excellent for families.
Manatee Players presents Bark! The Musical, through November 8, 2015, in the Kiwanis Theater at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts, 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton; 941-748-0111; manateeplayers.com.
Cast: King: Carl Bowman
Directed and Choreographed By Kelly Burnette