101 Dalmatians
Credit: Joan Marcus

101 Dalmatians Musical

Someone as terrifically wicked as Cruella De Vil belongs on stage, looming large over an audience of wide-eyed animal lovers. Broadway veteran Rachel York can really belt out her insatiable lust for puppy fur as Cruella, and she brought some needed fun and ferocity to an otherwise spotty production that is now touring nationally. (The show, based on Dodie Smith’s original book with new music by former Styx frontman Dennis DeYoung, is not connected to the beloved Disney cartoon.) The witty costumes and set design have the audience looking at the world from a dog’s point of view; the actors playing humans loom cartoonishly large on stilts, while those playing Dalmatians are stuck in spotted white culottes and tees. The trompe l’oeil effect is amusing, though it severely limits dance numbers involving the human characters in their canoe-like boots. It’s true that Cruella meets a rather gruesome end, but I spent much of the show nervous we’d lose her in a stumble into the orchestra pit. (Admittedly, the unencumbered ensemble playing the coveted Dalmatians might want to re-devote themselves to their choreography lessons. Young Kendra Tate, who plays one of the 13-strong puppy pack, is the only real dancer on stage.)

My 8-year-old date for the show loves dogs and has an admirable attention span. Yet during the rather lackluster first act, her mind started drifting, worrying that she was underdressed or that she had left her stuffed animal in the car. We looked at each other and rolled our eyes during banal ballads like the treacly numbers ”A Perfect Family” and ”Twilight Barking” performed by Mom and Pop Dalmatian (Catia Ojeda and James Ludwig). Only one song, the very catchy ”Be a Little Bit Braver,” really set our toes a-tapping. As far as my date was concerned, all was forgiven when actual live Dalmatians made a darling appearance at the end of the first act and in a cutesy grand finale. Jaded Grown-Up with the Purse: B- 8-year-old Animal Lover: A- (”The minus is for the boring parts”)

(National tour schedule and tickets:

101 Dalmatians Musical
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