October 27, 2005

Bark! The Musical
It's like "Cats," but with dogs.
Dennis Mahoney

With so many interest groups and charities designed to save pets via rescue efforts, horrible living conditions and untimely deaths, the jaunty and spirited musical "Bark" has come at the right time. Focusing on six down-on-their-luck dogs living at a Chicago Animal Shelter, "Bark" delivers the message that all dogs need a loving home.

The three "studs" and three "bitches" are tolerant friends of one another. Each found their way there through unfortunate means-one's owner died, one peed to much on the carpet, while another was a former breeding factory at a puppy mill. Through making friends, reflecting on their past lives through song, and heartrending moments they learn to make life at the animal shelter not so horribly bad. Yet they all wish for a better and brighter future.

"Bark" is the first show to be staged in the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts' new Studio Theater space. It's a comfortable space that is well lit, provides excellent acoustics and no seat is more than 15 feet from the stage. This lends well to the production, as the dogs take to laying down in the aisles when not on stage. You almost want to reach out and pet them, or offer them a bone.

Set designer Dan Wheeler presents a functional living space for the dogs in the form of a back yard. It's livable enough for the dogs, and sure beats the broken glass in the back lots where many less fortunate dogs are found. Lighting designer Jesse Klug sets the right mood in the musical numbers, particularly during a sultry Latin tune sung by Tony Barton to close out the first act.

All the cast members are more than capable singers, which is evident early in the show. Because the space is probably smaller than where the actors are used to performing, their booming voices are overwhelming... Given the tight quarters, director and choreographer Kay Cole does a capable job of staging the dance numbers so the actors make use of available props, which include tree stumps, steel fences and chains with shackles.

All the dogs want to find a new home, or just someone to love them. You can't help but want to beat a quick path to Chicago's Anti-Cruelty Society and fill out adoption papers for the dog (or cat) of your choice at the end of the show.

At the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts;
777 N. Green St;
(312) 327-2000;
$35-$45. Through Jan. 9; 8 p.m. Friday;
2 p.m. & 8 p.m.
Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday.


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