Review Roundup: Ryan McCartan in MUTT HOUSE at Kirk Douglas Theatre
Ryan McCartan (recent Fox remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Disney Channel's Liv and Maddie, Off-Broadway's Heathers: The Musical) heads the cast of a fun and furry musical tale for animal lovers of all ages. The world premiereof Mutt House will play at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City now through Aug. 5.
Created and written by Tony Cookson, Mutt House features 18 original songs with music and lyrics by John Daniel, Tony Cookson, Robb Curtis Brown and David O, including titles like "When He Sniffs Me," "I'm Lying Here (Scratch Me)" and "When You Hear Barking, I Hear Words Instead." Director Ryan Bergmann (Die, Mommie, Die! at the Celebration Theatre and Kirk Douglas Theatre), music director Anthony Lucca and choreographer Janet Roston are at the helm.
The shelter's resident pooches include a cool, salsa-dancing Chihuahua named Pepe, played by Grammy Award-winning musician Gabriel González (smoking hot salsa bands Boogaloo Assassins and La Verdad); a loyal-to-the-bone mutt who goes by the name of Donna, portrayed byAmanda Leigh Jerry (Once at South Coast Rep, Carousel at Musical Theatre West); a haughty French Poodle qui s'appelle Sophie, personified byValerie Larsen (Frozen-Live at the Hyperion at Disneyland California Adventure); a rambunctious pit bull who answers to Bradley, played byGarrett Marshall (the Beast in Beauty and the Beast at MTW, Carrie: The Musical at La Mirada and Los Angeles Theater); a handsome Lab mix named Digger, embodied by Ben Palacios (Prince Hans in Disney's Frozen); and a pudgy Corgi called Max, played by Max Wilcox (Gigantic off-Broadway, recurring on Glee). Rounding out the cast of characters are Claire Adams (title role in Violet at Actors Co-op, Incognito at the Rubicon) as Eddie's love interest, Hannah; Boise Holmes (NAACP and Ovation Award winner for When Jazz Had the Blues at the Matrix, German and Hong Kong productions of Disney's The Lion King) as Gerry, manager of the embattled shelter; and Heather Olt (The Max Factor Factor at Celebration Theatre, Runaways on Hulu) in a variety of roles including town mayor.
The multiple award-winning creative team for Mutt House includes scenic designer Stephen Gifford, lighting designer Matthew Brian Denman, sound designer Cricket S. Myers, costume designer Allison Dillard, prop master Michael O'Hara and production stage manager Mercedes Clanton. Casting is by Michael Donovan.
The son of actor, singer and producer Peter Cookson and Academy Award and Tony Award-winning actress Beatrice Straight, Tony Cookson's writing credits include the critically acclaimed short film Ringers, selected to the New Directors Series sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art and Lincoln Center, and the full-length feature films And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird and Love Happens starring Megan Price (Rules of Engagement) and Ken Marino (Wander Lust). He has two films currently in development: The Package, an action comedy starring Ryan Hurst (Remember the Titans, Sons of Anarchy) set to film in Spring 2019, and a big budget holiday film. This is his first musical.
Mutt House: The Musical opened for press on Sunday, July 15 and continues through Aug. 5, with performances on Wednesdays at 8 p.m.;Thursdays at 8:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Preview performances take place July 10-14. Tickets range from $39 - $59. The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 820 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232. Parking is free underneath Culver City City Hall with validation: enter on Duquesne, just south of Culver Blvd. To purchase tickets and for more information, call213-628-2772 or MutthouseTheMusical.com.
McCartan stars as quirky outsider Eddie Corbin. Bullied all his life, Eddie has finally found a place to call home in a neglected downtown animal shelter. When the city threatens to close the shelter, Eddie must do something he's never done before - stand up for himself and fight for what's right. With the help of six zany mutts, he faces his fears and makes an unexpected human connection in the process.
Let's see what the critics have to say!
Margaret Gray, LA Times: Best of all, though, are the dogs! They're played by six charming actors in Allison Dillard's irresistible costumes and makeup, which evoke rather than mimic dogginess. Each is a different breed: Max (Max Wilcox), a dumpling shaped, belly-scratch-loving corgi; Digger (Ben Palacios), a charismatic golden Lab; Donna (Amanda Leigh Jerry), a mutt with a New York accent; a ritzy show poodle, Sophie (Valerie Larsen, who also plays an elderly bloodhound named Joanie); a chihuahua named Pepe (Gabriel Gonzalez); and a misunderstood pit bull named Bradley (Garrett Marshall), a kind of dog version of Judd Nelson's character in "The Breakfast Club."
Erin Conley, On Stage and Screen: McCartan, who recently appeared in The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Fox, is excellent in the lead role, bringing a strong voice and a clear personality to Eddie. While Eddie's extreme anxiety often veers into the territory of harmful mental illness stereotypes, he arcs nicely throughout the show, with some assistance from his canine pals. McCartan and Adams are very charming together in the central love story, particularly when Eddie, with the help of Max the corgi, helps Hannah tackle her fear of dogs that resulted from a childhood trauma. The actors playing the dogs are a delight, and it is entertaining to watch them adapt dog mannerisms. The costumes (Allison Dillard) are creative, utilizing a backwards baseball cap with ears added to it, or sticking tails on the actors to make them just dog-like enough. While adult dog lovers will find plenty to enjoy here, this is a musical for children who love Disney movies with mustache-twirling villains and plucky heroes. One thing is for sure-it will definitely make you smile.
Steven Stanley, Stage Scene LA: There's also Mutt House creator Tony Cookson's captivating book, songs (music and lyrics by John Daniel, Cookson, Robb Curtis Brown, and David O) so hook-filled you'll be craving an Original Cast recording to put on repeat play, and choreographer Janet Roston's pooch-perfect dance numbers, from the show-opening "Get Me Out Of Here" to the Digger salute that is "Naturally Cool" to "In Junior High," with the mutts taking on human form to remind Eddie of the days he was "a superstar in his own freak show."
Shari Barrett, BroadwayWorld: Music director Anthony Lucca (with a rocking 5-piece band) and choreographer Janet Roston infuse each of the mutt's numbers with just enough canine characteristics to keep paw-loving audience members thoroughly entertained and laughing with delight. Beginning with Eddie and the dogs opening numbers "Get Me Out of Here" and "All You Need," I guarantee you will fall in love with each of these rogue characters longing to be free. Songs celebrate the unbreakable bond between man and his best friend from the dogs proclaiming "Eddie's Got Your Back" when the going gets tough, to Eddie's confession that "When You Hear Barking, I Hear Words Instead," proving to even the embattled shelter's manager Gerry (Boise Holmes) that the universal need for unconditional love is why the facility must survive.