A Chorus of Crooning Canines “Tells It Like It Is”
In A Joyous MUTTS SEE Musical Extravaganza
The Pet Press
Vol. 6 - Issue 3 - Nov-Jan, 2005
By Lori Golden
Forget about Pet Psychics and Animal Communicators. If you really want to know what the heck your precious pooch is thinking or feeling about any number of subjects, go see BARK, The Musical!
Going to the “theatah” has always been a special experience for me, ever since my uncle took me to see my first Broadway musical, Oliver, when I was very young. Despite growing up near New York City, seeing a Broadway show was not something we did all that often. Instead, we tended to see Broadway imports at the more local (and affordable) Papermill Playhouse in a nearby town. Broadway or not, it never really mattered because that shared theatrical experience was always so very special. Even when I worked on The Tony Awards one year and could see EVERY show on Broadway that was either new or a Tony contender, I was never jaded about the theater. For me it was always magic. And that’s the same feeling I had when I saw BARK, The Musical!
I’ve actually seen BARK! twice. I’ll admit I wasn’t too excited about going the first time because I had no idea what the show was about. I was expecting a juvenile-targeted production with people dressed in cute, furry canine costumes doing Lord, only knows what, on stage. I’d seen quite a number of “little shows” in local theater here in LA, and frankly I was not usually all that impressed. Not so with this production! From the opening chorus of Bark!, which introduces the ensemble cast of six, called “The Pack,” to its reprise at the show’s finale, I was hooked!
It’s possible I watched the entire show with my mouth open in astonishment… at the superb vocal talents of the cast (Chad Borden, Joshua Finkel, Lauri Johnson, Ginny McMath, Joe Souza and Katherine Von Til) and especially because of the incredible quality of the songs, both music and lyrics! (Music and musical direction by David Troy Francis; lyrics by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard and Robert Schrock with additional lyrics by Jonathan Heath, Danny Lukic and Mark Winkler) To be able to understand every word being sung is unique in itself. But the variety of musical styles that permeates this show is as diverse as the different kinds of dogs cleverly sung about in the riotous M-U-T-T Rap number. This is no small, local production destined to an afterlife in community or college theaters. BARK! is SO GOOD it deserves, like its cast of canines, to stake out its territory and make its mark on Broadway.
As with any production of this caliber, there are lots of people involved in its creation and execution, too many, I’m afraid, to list here. However, the overall look, movements and basic simplicity of this show that forces the audience to FEEL the emotions of its canine cast must be credited to its director and choreographer Kay Cole.
BARK! took about three years to create and bring to the stage, the genesis of its idea coming from its musical genius, David Troy Francis. “I had composed some songs for a short mockumentary film about dogs,” explains David, “and I got the idea that a musical about dogs from their point of view might be fun to write. I had never composed or produced a musical before. My partner Michael Boustead, Jerry Ryan and A. Chandler Warren are the other producers whose knowledge and efforts led to Bark!”
For David, whose background is primarily classical music, the most difficult part about mounting this show “were the things in which I had no previous experience… such as understanding theatrical contracts, which are quite different from recording contracts, for example. I read contracts from eight separate theatrical productions three times trying to understand the terminology. It was tedious but necessary work. Some of the personalities and egos one comes across can also be exasperating. It is worth noting that of those people we encountered who are high maintenance none have dogs themselves. Interesting, eh?”
David, and his partner, producer Michael Boustead, “share their home with their loving dogs Rosie & Ben and cool cats Shostakovich and Kabalevski.” Other members of the cast and crew also mention their companion animals in the show’s program. So how did these furry friends affect the creation of Bark!?
“Our two dogs and two cats influenced this show mightily,” answers David. “The Siren Symphony (one of this author’s favorite numbers) exists because of our beloved dogs. I wanted to explain why dogs howl when they hear sirens… and it is not because the sound hurts their ears! Most of the creative team for Bark! love their animals dearly. All the animals influenced this show in every way because all the dogs influence who we are as people.”
For Michael Boustead, who also entered the musical theater world as a Producer for the first time, the most difficult thing for him was “how much time and work it takes to keep a production like Bark! going. It’s a full time job!” Michael, like David, is also an accomplished composer of classical music as well as a music editor for film.
One of the smartest things the Bark! creative team did was to seek the endorsement of The Humane Society of The United States (HSUS) Hollywood Office. Smart, because the person they had to meet with was HSUS Vice President Gretchen Wyler, herself no stranger to Broadway.
“Joe Fusco, a volunteer at The Genesis Awards, called me one day in August asking if I would agree to meet with friends of his who were the creative team behind the musical Bark! which was to open in September,” recalls Gretchen. “Having performed in a dozen musicals, I was curious that a musical would want an endorsement, but of course I agreed to such a meeting.”
“I found myself quite dazzled by their plans,” Gretchen continues, “and I was intrigued with the concept. Nonetheless, before we give an endorsement, I told them I would have to see the script and read the lyrics. The next day, my request was granted, and I continued my enthusiasm after having read the script and all of the heartfelt sentiments expressed in the songs. I eagerly gave it “Two Paws Up!”
Not only did Bark! get the endorsement of the HSUS, it also got an enthusiastic supporter in the guise of Gretchen Wyler. “Since 1950 (yikes!), I’ve probably seen every show produced on Broadway, and most that were produced Off. I’m absolutely drawn to live theater, and despite fears expressed over the years, worrying that that art form would die, it never will. Bark! is unique - and for anyone who’s ever loved an animal, it certainly reaches a whole new population of theater goers with a very compelling message.”