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Theater review: ‘Dog Man: The Musical’ leaves audiences barking for more

The cast of “Dog Man: The Musical” performs on stage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Based on Dav Pilkey’s beloved children’s series, the comedic stage show will run in Los Angeles through Jan. 7. (Courtesy of Craig Schwartz Photography)

“Dog Man: The Musical”

Nov. 21 - Jan. 7

Kirk Douglas Theatre

$35 - $109

By Victoria Munck

Dec. 6, 2023 12:35 p.m.

This post was updated Dec. 6 at 7:18 p.m.

Though he’s not quite yet the best in show, Dog Man’s musical debut will leave audiences howling with laughter.

Based on author and “Captain Underpants” creator Dav Pilkey’s beloved children’s books, “Dog Man: The Musical” has hang-glided to Los Angeles with a crime-biting adventure for all ages. The production, which tells the tale of a part-dog, part-man hero, will light up the Kirk Douglas Theatre through Jan. 7. Hilariously creative sets and costumes bring Pilkey’s source material to life with an enthralling spirit, but the show’s high energy occasionally hits too hard to hold an older audience.

[Related: ‘Bluey x CAMP’ brings immersive Aussie adventure to Los Angeles]

After a powerful overture, the production is opened by fifth-grade friends George (Marcus Phillips) and Harold (Max Torrez), who decide to convert one of their homemade comics – “Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties” – into a stage show after being rejected from their school musical. In real time, audiences watch the boisterous duo bring Dog Man (Brian Owen) and his absurd chronicles beyond the page, accounting for their minimal experience and funding along the way. Their introduction immediately sets up the musical’s humorously meta tone, with their first song even beginning with the lyric, “This is called the opening number.”

As the musical is developed, the youthful, boyish energy fueled by the in-show librettists is masterfully woven throughout the production’s set and prop design. City skyscrapers are made of adorably painted cardboard with location names penned in scraggly handwriting. When props and special effects exceed the elementary schoolers’ budget, household objects like hair brushes and umbrellas transform into microphones and explosives. Despite seeming basic, these creative decisions don’t feel lazy at all – minute details tastefully construct the musical’s aesthetic and motivate the audience to engage with every aspect of the show.

In a similar vein, costume design appears simple, with most cast members in solid-colored shirts that make characters easily identifiable by young viewers. They opt to accessorize with paper badges and hats made from plastic buckets, further infusing the production with childlike charm. As only six performers comprise the ensemble, actors often take on different roles by switching between these decorative elements.

Despite its modest size, the versatile cast never fails to fill the stage with excitement. While choreography feels limited on the small stage, the actors still command attention with bold movements and bright expressions. Moreover, the show’s upbeat songs are performed with passion, shaping angelic harmonies from only a few voices. When paired with consistently poor sound mixing, however, the actors’ high volume becomes far too loud, making their great energy more of an annoyance.

Nonetheless, the most memorable performance comes from Owen as Dog Man. He gives an exceptionally believable portrayal of a high-spirited dog, which is maybe a compliment. As per strict demands from George and Harold, Dog Man cannot speak or sing, so his dialogue is exclusively made of barks. His energetic woofs and comical canine movements fully immerse younger audiences but might be a little too good for older viewers to take seriously.

Regardless, there are many instances in which the story’s humor playfully winks at its adult crowd, proving to be enjoyable for all ages. Several witty “Les Misérables” references will stand out to theater connoisseurs, while jokes about kombucha-drinking hippies leave familiar viewers chuckling.

[Related: Theater Review: The musical ‘Les Misérables’ offers stellar displays and impassioned vocals]

However, the production finds some of its strongest comedy in its music. Although its composition can’t compare to the likes of Broadway’s greatest hits, lyrics from Kevin Del Aguila guarantee extensive entertainment in every number. One of the funniest songs is a seemingly heartfelt ballad from the show’s feline supervillain, Petey (Bryan Daniel Porter), titled “Without Me.” The gag hits when Petey reveals he is actually singing about his overwhelming love for himself, belting side-splitting lyrics such as “Me are all I ever wanted” and “Me are always on my mind” with a raging passion.

Boasting a 90-minute runtime, the musical wraps up concisely, holding the attention of younger audiences without a rushed storyline. Reminiscent of the opening number, the final song is deemed “The Happy Ending,” sending viewers home with a joyous message of friendship and love. By providing unending smiles and resounding laughter, the show is sure to grace children with a newfound appreciation for both literature and live theater, which is possibly the best thing a modern production could do.

Save for a few flaws, “Dog Man: The Musical” is barking up the right tree.

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Victoria Munck | Theater | film | television editor
Munck is the 2023-2024 theater | film | television editor. She was previously an Arts contributor from 2022-2023. She is a second-year communication student from Granada Hills, California.
Munck is the 2023-2024 theater | film | television editor. She was previously an Arts contributor from 2022-2023. She is a second-year communication student from Granada Hills, California.
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