From left, Heidi Blickenstaff, Eric William Morris, Beth Leavel, Jon Patrick Walker and Nicole Parker in "Dog and Pony"
From left, Heidi Blickenstaff, Eric William Morris, Beth Leavel, Jon Patrick Walker and Nicole Parker in "Dog and Pony"
© The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox

Dog and Pony, San Diego

Despite a strong cast and sharp dialogue, this new musical cries out for a rewrite.

Book by Rick Elice

Music and Lyrics by Michael Patrick Walker

Directed by Roger Rees

The Old Globe, San Diego (world premiere)

May 28 – June 29, 2014

A man and a woman work for years as a creative team. One is married; the other single. What if suddenly the deck is cleared and they had a shot at romance. Would it ruin their professional relationship? That’s the one-trick pony in the musical “Dog and Pony,” receiving its world premiere at The Old Globe.

In the first act — which seesaws unevenly between the present and flash backs — we meet Andy (Jon Patrick Walker) and Mags (Nicole Parker), a screenwriting team with a string of movie hits and a lot of baggage. Constantly in each other’s company, they joke about being “work spouses.” But Andy’s real marriage is on the rocks. He lies, he drinks, he lies about his drinking, and he has told his wife one whopper of a lie that firmly places him in the scumbag category. Why Mags thinks this guy is a prize is anyone’s guess.

Single Mags lies to her mother about being on vacation in the Caribbean looking for a guy. Mags makes that deceitful call soon after arriving at Andy’s Connecticut house where she frequently turns up so the duo can work. No matter that it happens to be a holiday weekend.

Andy’s wife, Jane (Heidi Blickenstaff), seems nonchalant about Mags always hanging around. Wading through the mess of her marriage — and the muck of an ill-tempered pony that Andy impulsively bought for their ungrateful daughter — we learn that Jane also has a thing for guns, hunting, and launching backyard firework displays so massive they require the type of blasting detonator used to level mountains with dynamite. Jane’s anger issues underlie the song “One Less Pony.”

Rounding out the line-up is Jeff (Eric William Morris), a neighbor with the habit of sneaking up behind people in order to startle them. Care to guess what happens when he tries this on Jane holding a loaded gun? And, finally, there’s Andy’s mother, Rhoda (Beth Leavel), who is suspicious of Mags spending so much time with a married man.

By now, the audience yearns to experience the magic of Andy and Mags at work, taking the kernel of an idea and developing it into something brilliant. Instead we get writer’s block in the song “Six Wednesdays,” in which the pair regularly checks into a hotel, orders room service, dons the fluffy bathrobes, and camps out on the bed scribbling furiously but unproductively on legal pads.

The story continues to limp along and Andy makes another impulsive purchase: A dog for his daughter. Doormat Mags agrees to pick up the pooch and drive all night in the snow to deliver it on Christmas morning. Mags sings “What the Hell Am I Doing?” while wheeling around the stage in a Flintstone-powered toy car. Parker, as Mags, has the pipes and the comedic chops, but the material isn’t quite enough to get this musical firing on all cylinders.

The second act becomes more populated and suddenly springs to life as Blickenstaff, Morris, and Leavel perform double duty as Bonnie (Andy’s new girlfriend), Joe (Mags’ possible new boyfriend), and Doris (Mags’ mother). Bonnie is a modern-day Miss Malaprop with a 21st-century vocabulary that delivers some real zingers. Doris gets all the best lines and Leavel is money in the bank delivering them with flawless timing.

Had these characters and their knife-sharp dialogue been introduced in the first act there might have been fewer empty seats in the theater after Saturday night’s intermission.

Emily Pepper (costume designer) has given Mags the appropriately snug, New York City black dress. While it facilitates rapid costume changes as other garb is layered on or removed, Parker self-consciously tugs at the dress most of the evening. In a similar vein, this musical has all the right parts but they remain an ill fit.

During the show I had a flashback of my own: To the 1979 musical “They’re Playing Our Song,” about the romantic tribulations of a songwriting duo. The fact that the title tune from that 35-year-old show inhabited my head when I walked to my car signals that “Dog and Pony” is in need of a rewrite.

By Lynne Friedmann

San Diego, CA
Lynne Friedmann, based in San Diego, is an award-winning, freelance writer of news, feature articles, and blogs on science, travel, and the arts. Her decades-long passion for theater was sparked as a teen when the Inner City Cultural Center commandeered classroom curricula by bringing classic plays to urban high schools in Los Angeles.