101 Dalmatians is one of those rare, brand new musicals, that you know within the first few minutes of that you are in safe hands and will be presented a production of fantastic quality and true theatrical joy.
Opening with a team of actor-musicians welcoming you to Regents Park, the superiority of the talent in this production is apparent from the get go. Of course, the arrival of two Dalmatians on stage, represented as actor/puppets, has the audience giving a collective and very audible “Ahhhh!”. DOGGIES! What everyone had come for was being laid out on a plate (or should that be in a bowl?) for us to lap up from the very beginning of this exciting new production at the Open Air Theatre.
Douglas Hodge and Timothy Sheader’s portrayal of this Disney classic will have high expectations from its legion of adoring fans who both grew up with this wonderful story and many of whom are now passing that love onto their own children too. We are delighted to report it does not disappoint!
Johnny McKnight’s book delivers a bang up-to-date adaptation of this story, even touching on the darker side of social media and the lifestyle of those who hunt fame no matter the cost, while heavily focusing the story on a family-friendly creation for all ages to enjoy.
Hodge’s clever opening number has the dogs singing about their owners as we all may talk about our pets, even referring to their humans as their pets throughout the show. The theory of who is the owner in these common household relationships is truly flipped on its head with wonderful satirical charm. Hodge, a well-known and award-winning West End actor, crafts delightfully intelligent lyrics and catchy, pleasing music which stand out as having true class and immaculate detail.
Danny Collins and Emma Lucia playing Pongo and Perdi respectively are the ultimate stage duo for what could be expected to be a difficult portrayal of two very famous four-legged Disney characters. Their performances radiate emotion and passion, delivering the inspiring libretto, making it impossible to feel anything but the utmost of care for them from the start. In particular, Lucia’s beautifully-toned vocals during the song All of our Kisses are heartwarming and ‘paw-fectly’ pitched.
Special mention also has to be given to the ‘pets’ of these Pongo and Perdi, who in our world we would know as the human owners of our canine duo. Eric Stroud and Karen Fishwick are utterly fantastic in their roles as Dominic and Danielle. Conjuring a true emotional connection just like their doggy counterparts, their compelling portrayal engages the audience with their plight from the offset.
The ensemble of this visually complicated show is easily one of the hardest working in London, with an almost-constant presence on stage as dancer, singer, set-moving ‘puppy-teers’. They certainly deserve the rapturous applause received after each superbly choreographed number.
The name of Cruella De Vil alone evokes invokes such a strong image that even a highly experienced and skilled actor like Kate Fleetwood must face the challenge of filling such big, infamous shoes. Her opening scenes felt somewhat low key as she introduces us to her strong east London accented portrayal of this iconic Disney villain. Quite a departure from Glenn Close’s upper class fashion-crazed baddie, it isn’t long before Fleetwood’s De Vil gets into gear, delighting us with superb vocals (not a touch of husk-y) and the true confidence of this pure evil character. Her commanding performance of Für Fur, closing Act 1, is so incredibly memorable, culminating in a final tableau that has the hairs on your arm standing on end as you witness the true scale of the Dalmatian fur coat she is planning to create.
It is hard to describe the simple yet complex design of Toby Olié’s Dalmatian puppets, especially when you consider that he had to represent them as new born, puppies and adult dogs, but it is done in such an ingenious way that you should be in no doubt anything is ‘paw-sible’ on a theatrical stage.
The costume design, by Tony- and Olivier-award winner Katrina Lindsay, is also a feast for the eyes and wouldn’t look out of place in this month’s edition of ‘Vanity-Fur’. Happily they all escaped the ever possible chance of it raining cats and dogs at this theatre which is proudly open to the elements.
Sit up and beg for a ticket for 101 Dalmatians before they go walkies!
101 Dalmatians ‘retrieves’ a very respectable ★★★★ (Four stars) from The Recs. Thanks ‘fur’ reading!