by Sarah Downs
“A Dog Story” is a charming love story with a very New York flavor. Roland (David Perlman), an ambitious Manhattan lawyer with an eye to making partner has learned that he has been passed over for promotion yet again. He concludes that what stands between him and his goal is his unmarried status. Time to find a wife — and fast. Best friend Guy (Brian Ray Norris), whose Tinder account is perennially in overdrive, offers him love advice. How do you groom the awkward Roland to capture the attention of a woman without tripping over himself. If he depends on his native talents he will definitely not have her at ‘hello.’ The answer? Get a dog! Women love dogs! So Roland equips himself with an adorable pup, aptly named Cupid, and almost immediately falls for Blair (Stefanie Brown), a globe-trotting hedge fund manager. Cupid’s arrow may have done its job, but Roland quickly learns that Cupid the puppy needs to do his. Enter Miranda (Lindsie Vanwinkle) a no-nonsense dog trainer who tries to keep Roland on a short leash as she attempts to teach him to teach the dog. Roland would rather cut out the middle man and have Miranda do all the teaching. The dog is, after all, only a prop. As Cupid learns to sit and stay, Roland learns more about himself, in a narrative that satisfies with a much deserved ‘awwwww.’
The four actors are all well cast. As Roland, David Perlman projects the right amount of nervous stressed out energy but with a softness underneath. Stefanie Brown as Blair embodies the alluring, elusive female, although the character is written with some abrupt mood changes, giving her arc a certain lack of coherence. For instance, in the dance scene choreographed by Shannon Lewis the dance is loads of fun but you are not sure why it is happening. I also wish the composer had exploited Brown’s pretty soprano range more. Brian Ray Norris as Guy is totally a guy – out of shape, ebullient, on the make but not a wolf. He is eminently likeable. For me, however, Lindsie Vanwinkle dominates the show with her quiet focus and natural quality. Her lullaby to Cupid is enchanting. At the center of it all, of course, is our little doggie Cupid. The playwright has wisely made the decision to leave Cupid invisible. This gives the audience the chance to conjure up any kind of pooch we like.
Justin Baldridge directs this piece as befits the writing, keeping it light and naturalistic. I did find the costuming by Travis Chinick a bit confusing. Roland and Blair’s office attire makes sense, as does Miranda’s dog training uniform, but otherwise all of the characters sport a hodgepodge of mismatched items. Perhaps the point is the contrast between work week and weekend, of restriction vs. freedom? I get that, but the freedom does end up looking a bit as if they shopped at the thrift store.
The book by Eric H. Weinberger and music by Gayla D. Morgan work very well together. The story is simple without being simplistic, and the music flows easily without the jarring transition from spoken word to singing that can afflict some musicals. Morgan employs a variety of musical styles from straightforward musical theater opener to the tenderest of lullabies, and even a tango. The keys tend to stay within the same vocal range for all of the characters, however. It would be refreshing to hear some of the songs soar a little higher or feel a little broader. Musical Director Dylan MarcAurele makes the most out of an excellent three person ‘orchestra’. You would swear the band was larger than that.
The standout set is absolutely first-rate. It is a character on its own. Inventive, beautifully lit from within, ever-changing, it unpeels its various layers as the night progresses in a veritable scenic dance of the seven veils. In its plasticity the set opens the playing space up far beyond the limitations of four walls and a floor. Scenic Designer Lauren Mills and Lighting Designer Jamie Roderick have fused set and lighting so seamlessly that one would literally not function without the other. They should trademark it and take it on the road.
As I walked out of the theater I had a ferocious desire to snuggle a four-footed fur person. I predict that there are going to be long lines at the animal shelter after people see this play. And that’s the perfect dog story.
“a dog story”, book by Eric H. Weinberger, music and lyrics by Gayla D. Morgan; directed by Justin Baldridge; with: David Perlman (Roland), Stefanie Brown (Blair), Brian Ray Norris (Guy) and Lindsie Vanwinkle (Miranda). Set design: Lauren Mills; lighting design: Jamie Roderick; costume design: Travis Chinick; sound design Tyler Kieffer; choreography: Shannon Lewis; music supervisor: Dylan MarcAruele.
Presented at the Loft at the Davenport Theatre, 354 West 45th St. through March 6, 2017 on the following schedule: Thursday 7pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm and 7pm, and Monday at 7pm. Tickets can be purchased by visiting Telecharge at www.Telecharge.com or calling (212) 239-6200. For more information about the show, go to www.ADogStoryTheMusical.com. Running time 90 minutes without intermission.