Friday, November 4, 2005

Clever 'Bark!' gets Studio Theatre off to frisky start

Daily Southtown Theater Critic
The show opens with the sound of barking dogs, drawing a collective laugh from the audience.

And when a half-dozen pooches (played by humans) romp onto the stage, you can see dog love glistening in just about every theatergoer's eye.


Appropriately named "Bark!" this cute and clever musical inaugurates the new 144-seat Studio Theatre of the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts with lots of laughs and many poignant moments. It's a lot like a dog version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" — but a lot better.

Written by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard, this Chicago premiere has a simple plot in which six dogs are stuck in a city pound hoping to be adopted. There is some urgency because if the dogs don't appeal to new owners within six weeks, they'll be put to sleep.

With fine direction by Kay Cole, who also choreographed the paw steps, the six dogs are played by Chicago performers who, with exquisite body language, transform their human selves into canines.

Each actor brings a distinct personality to an animal role. Among the standout performances are the frisky, sweet pup Rachmaninoff, who goes by the shortened nickname of Rocks. Played with great charm by the fresh-faced Devin DeSantis, he quickly wins over everyone's heart.

The French poodle Chanel is a snobby gal portrayed by talented Cory Goodrich. Goodrich is a riot as the opera-loving highbrow who is pursued by Sam, a low-class mutt played with great relish by Tony Barton. Barton does a good job as the dog that has been abused and now wears his rebelliousness on his black leather collar.

Then there's the blue-collar police dog Cagney who, though, given a tough exterior by Mary Mulligan, is really a pushover for a bad-luck story. And Ben, the seeing-eye dog, has the worst bad luck story of all. Played with compelling emotion by Stanley White, he's the dog who took care of a blind boy until he was turned out when he lost his own sight.

These pooches also move you with the show's terrific musical score by David Troy Francis. While numbers such as "I'm in Love with Lassie" are playful and funny, there are some beautiful melodies that soar with great tenderness, such as the duet by Goodrich and Barton in "You Give Me Hope," the heart-wrenching "A Grassy Field" sung by Stanley White and the lush "Life Should Be Simple," performed by Mulligan and

This is an enchanting musical, but be forewarned: After seeing this show, you will want to run to the nearest dog pound to rescue a four-legged friend.


When: 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 20
Where: Studio Theatre at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, 777 N. Green St., Chicago
Tickets: $35 to $45
Information: Call (312) 733-6000


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