Story: Roger and Anita live comfortably in their London home with their pet Dalmation dogs, Pongo and Perdita. When Perdita gives birth to a litter, the household becomes a haven for the frolicsome puppies, much to Roger’s and Anita’s delight.
The couple’s ostentatious neighbor, Cruella de Vil, visits one day and in her haughty way declares that she wishes to buy the entire brood. When Roger and Anita patiently but firmly inform her that the puppies are not for sale, she storms out of their home with a vow to avenge such a slight.
Seems that the fashion-obsessed Cruella has in mind using the puppy pelts to adorn her in a Dalmation-themed fur coat. She orders her minions, Horace and Jasper, to dognap the pups and bring them to her for ‘alterations.’
Frantic over the disappearance of their offspring, Pongo and Perdita use the ‘twilight bark’ code of canines to spread the word to other dogs around London of their plight. A pair of chihuahuas recall seeing two humans loading Dalmation puppies into a truck and a tracking effort is undertaken.
Once the puppies are rescued, Sgt. Tibbs arrests Horace and Jasper as Cruella de Vil tries to slip out of the clutches of the law. There’s no honor among thieves, though, and soon Cruella joins her dastardly duo behind bars. Roger and Anita are reunited with Pongo, Perdita and all of their beloved Dalmation pups.
Highlights: Tyler Jent’s arch portrayal of mega-villain Cruella de Vil paves the highway to humor in Stages St. Louis’ kid-focused version of this quick little musical inspired by the 1961 Disney animated movie and its subsequent, 1996 live-action version.
Other Info: The fluffy, lightweight lyrics and music are penned by a team of artists including Mel Leven, Randy Rogel, Richard Gibbs, Brian Smith, Martin Lee Fuller and Dan Root. The book and additional lyrics are by Marcy Heisler, based on the 1961 screenplay by Bill Peet, which in turn was inspired by Dodie Smith’s novel, The Hundred and One Dalmations.
This version, which runs less than 45 minutes, features music adapted and arranged by Bryan Louiselle, with entertaining musical direction by Tali Allen and orchestral design by Stuart M. Elmore.
James Wolk’s scenic design provides a simple but colorful background for the antics on stage, which Peggy Taphorn directs and choreographs in clever, amusing fashion guaranteed to capture the imaginations of the youngsters in attendance.
Sean M. Savoie’s lighting adds to the enchantment for the tykes, with Brad Musgrove pitching in with costumes accentuating Cruella’s mean streak and the spotty Dalmation coats.
Jent’s Cruella is suitably sinister with her black and white hair, garish fur and cigarette holder, masking her snarl with a forced smile designed to undermine her affable neighbors. Eric Michael Parker and Larissa White handle the roles of Roger and Anita with wide smiles and plenty of love for their pups.
Drew Humphrey and Dena DiGiacinto make for right proper parents for their Dalmation litter as Pongo and Perdita, and Laura Ernst capably fills the bill as the dutiful nanny. Joshua Roach and Ryan Cooper cavort to the delight of the kids as Cruella’s dim-witted assistants Horace and Jasper, respectively.
The “dogs of London,” who line the aisles leading to the stage at times, include Carson Davis and David Michael Self as Boxers, Ernst and Mitchell Holsclaw as Scottish terriers, Trenay Labelle and Anna Wright as French poodles and Ernst and Holsclaw as Chihuahuas (what, no German shepherds?), sporting amusingly ethnic outfits courtesy of Musgrove.
Rounding out the cast are Thomas Woodrow, Cate Phillips, Luke Swaller, Hallie Fisher, Jacob Flekier, Aaron (AJ) Bentley and Sophie Gorgen. The puppies are portrayed by Bentley, Davis, Arden Dickson, Fisher, Gorgen, Labelle, Phillips, Self, Swaller, Woodrow and Wright.
The music is pleasant if forgettable and the story is familiar, but Stages’ version of Disney’s 101 Dalmations knows its audience and proves to be a lovable kid-pleaser.
Musical: Disney’s 101 Dalmations
Company: Stages St. Louis
Venue: Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Civic Center, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: June 26-30 at 11 a.m., June 28-29 at 1 p.m.
Tickets: $28; contact 821-2407 or stagesstlouis.org
Photos courtesy of Tom Sakiyama