If you are yet to discover the graphic Dog Man novels from legendary author Dav Pilkey, then you are in for a treat. Dog Man will have you giggling at the ridiculous antics of an unlikely hero. A police officer with a remarkable body but who, alas, is not that bright, has a canine friend with brilliant brains – his ability only limited by his dog body. Both are mortally wounded in an explosion. The officer's head is beyond repair and the dog's body is bust. But all is not lost as Nurse Lady saves the day with an ingenious solution. Combine the officer's body and the dog's head and you have Dog Man. The greatest superhero of all time.
The premise is simple and ridiculous but it has become the backbone of eleven books to date and kids are devouring them. My son loves Dog Man and we read and re-read them every night. When we saw that Dog Man The Musical was coming to the Chatswood Concourse we were in without question. The Concourse is a great location for theatre on the North Shore. It is surrounded by eateries and the open space provides an opportunity for little legs to run out all their wiggles before a show.
Now putting on a show that comes with an audience already passionate about the fantasy is always tricky. Your viewers have their own relationship with the story and you are never going to please everyone. Kevin Del Aguila has amalgamated four of the Dog Man books and added several musical numbers to try and capture the Dog Man phenomena and give it a new perspective through music.
There were some parts of this production that hit the mark every time. The set design by Tim Mackabee, was well crafted and represented the graphic novel’s artistic style. With a couple of clever tweeks in props and lighting the main set moves from the police headquarters to cityscapes and even a volcanic site. The set design and puppeteering were what most closely engaged the audience with the ridiculous nature of Dog Man.
The costume design, by Heidi Hanson, was a little patchy. For Flippy, the villainous fish who gains psychokinetic powers after eating too many brain dots, the costume was cleverly crafted. It was a perfect combination of out-of-the box thinking and embracing the wackiness of the character. Using a bike helmet and some oversized googly eyes Nava Revalk was able to embrace the absurd. She was a great Flippy and found the fun in every moment. 80-HD, the robot, was also inventive and well brought to life with some puppetry skills and adaptations.
However, a big disappointment was Dog Man’s reincarnation. My son asked me at the end why did Dog Man stay human? I understand that a full-on dog head limits communication with the audience as the ability to control facial expressions is problematic, but the whole point of Dog Man is that he has the head of a dog. This production left us with a human face, floppy ears and black nose. It never felt like Dog Man, despite Josh Whitten’s commitment to the role which he played with bountiful energy. He did capture some of Dog Man’s puppy dog characteristics but it was jarring every time you saw him because he didn’t really have a dog’s head.
A similar thread was pulled in the portrayal of Harold. Dav Pilkey created Harold and George as extensions of himself. These are the two boys who own Tree House Comix Inc. and act as the authors of Dog Man. Harold's main identifying feature is his ridiculous blond hair. It towers on top of his head in the graphic novel and is so dominating in some panels that the face underneath is secondary. With such a distinctive look it was hard for Liam J. Kirkpatrick and their dark short locks to convince the audience that he was indeed Harold. Fortunately Kirkpatrick has a boyish physical comedy and embraced the challenge.
The stand out performance was Mackenzie Garcia who played Lil Petey, a clone of Petey, the cat with a villain’s attitude. Lil Petey’s innocence and playful nature brings so much heart to the Dog Man series and Garcia captured it all. Yet again, a costume choice to not give Lil Petey and Petey a tail left audience members feeling a disconnect. Tails would have just taken us one step closer to being immersed in those pages where we galavant around a city that comes alive when Living Spray, a spritz that brings everything to life, escapes from storage.
Knowing how your young audience identifies a character and accentuating those small details suspends disbelief and can hook fans right into the action. It was fun to see Dog Man and the many weird and wonderful characters come to life. The cast were great and despite the holes my son did give it two thumbs up.
CDP Theatre Producers presents
Dog Man the Musical
by Kevin Del Aguila
Director Jen Wineman
Venue: The Concourse | 409 Victoria Ave, Chatswood, NSW
Dates: 1 July – 5 July 2023