Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Dog's Life

Book by:  Sean Grennan

Music & Lyrics by:  Leah Okimoto

Venue:  Black Box Theatre, 1367 Pecan St. Colorado Springs CO 80904

Running Time:  2 hours, 20 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Friday, August 7, 2015.

This is theater for a cause, and that cause is the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region.  Always on the watch for ethical treatment of animals, the Humane Society is an organization that is close to my heart.  I have adopted several magnificent pets over the years, and I have a great deal of respect for those who dedicate their time and resources to animal welfare (including the cast and crew of A Dog’s Life).  

Lucky catching some rays...
We have a dog at our house; Lucky is a 12 year old long haired Dachshund.  She was adopted from the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region and has been a loyal and enthusiastic member of the family since day one.  That said, however, Lucky has somewhat skewed my view of a dog’s life.  She gets to sleep late, eat regularly, goes for walks, visits the groomer and the vet occasionally, and she naps pretty much any time she wants.  She also gets a king size bed that she shares with her two adults.  She gets half the bed, and they get the other half.  I can’t help but think that it must be like dog heaven to live at our house.

The reality of a dog’s life is actually much more complicated.  Sean Grennan’s script includes the peaks and the valleys in the lives of our often pampered dogs.  Being a dog often includes mistreatment, abuse, neglect, imprisonment, and sometimes euthanasia.  Sadly, not every dog owner appreciates the unconditional love and companionship dogs so gladly give us.

Luke Schoenemann (Jack)
The story of A Dog’s Life is the story of a dog named Jack (Luke Schoenemann), who is rescued from the shelter by his new and reluctant owner Joel (Mark Murphy).  Joel rescues Jack to get back with his girlfriend, who loves dogs.  Joel is too busy and too self centered to have his own dog, but he’s pretty sure giving one to his girlfriend will patch things up.  Wrong.  She has already moved on with another guy, and Joel is stuck with Jack.

Predictably, Jack wins over Joel’s heart, and they live happily ever after.  It’s a story many of us have lived out ourselves; our pets become our best friends, our family, and our lifelong companions.   Grennan gives us the downside of that story as well.  We usually outlive our lifelong companions, and the loss can be devastating.

I haven’t mentioned yet that A Dog’s Life is a musical; there’s a reason for that.  The story here is much more engaging than the music, which is cute (Choose Me),funny (BACON!), and at times touching (You’re in My Pack).  It is the story of the bond between Joel and Jack that we care about here, and occasionally the music gets in the way of that story.  

It’s also axiomatic that a musical requires actors with strong voices; A Dog’s Life falls somewhat short in that regard.  While singing dogs could howl from time to time, this music requires more vocal range than the cast could muster at times.  

Luke Schoenemann’s Jack is charming, endearing, and endlessly cute.  Schoenemann looks like, acts like, and moves like a dog.  When he tears up the place (as dogs will sometimes do), we still love him.  When he’s with his dog friends (Big Dog, played by Dan Kifer, and Little Dog, planed by Alicia Franks), he keeps the peace but stays mischievous.  When he’s with Joel, he’s the consummate dog, loyal, devoted, and loving.
Dan Kifer (Big Dog), Alicia Franks (Little Dog)

Dan Kifer is a big guy, and thus a perfect Big Dog.  He’s blustery but lovable, and endlessly annoyed by a yippy little terrier (Alicia Franks).  Franks is the hyperactive tail chasing terrier who abhors silence.  It’s a canine tour de force; Franks is priceless when her people dress her up in a tutu.  It’s good to be the princess.
Alicia Franks (Little Dog)

Mark Murphy (Joel) is the self absorbed human who gets stuck with Jack.  Murphy transforms from rejecting Jack, to tolerating Jack, and finally to accepting and loving Jack.  It’s a critical transformation, and one that Murphy masters at every turn.  Murphy’s sincere annoyance with Jack at the outset contrasts starkly with the devastation of losing Jack in the end.

All of which is to say that what matters in A Dog’s Life is the story.  We often forget about shelter dogs.  We forget that many have been abused, neglected, mistreated, and sometimes physically assaulted.  We forget that for every animal in a shelter, a clock is running.  When their time runs out, they are humanely put down.  We sometimes forget, as well, that our dogs are like family members who never complain, never let us down, and always love us unconditionally.  A Dog’s Life is proof of how dogs quietly improve our lives in ways we never expected.

A Dog’s Life at the Black Box Theatre is something we don’t often see:  a non-profit organization (Black Box) doing a fund raiser for another non-profit (Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region).  It is truly a credit to Black Box; those with few resources are donating their time and money to others in need.  We should all be as charitable; this is theater that makes a difference.  For that reason, among others, A Dog’s Life is a valuable theater experience.  

Even without the fund raising project, though, A Dog’s Life will strike a chord with anyone who has ever loved a dog.  You’ll laugh, but you may also shed a tear or two.  You will remember the dogs you have loved and lost.  They are gone, but never forgotten.  A Dog’s Life will take you back to that lost love and remind you how lucky you were to have that dog in your life.


There is ample free parking behind the theater and on the surrounding streets.

A Dog’s Life is a fund raising project for the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region.  For further information on the Humane Society, see their web page here, or contact them at 610 Abbot Lane, Colorado Springs, CO 80905.  Phone: (719) 473-1741.

Founded in 1949, the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region is a private, nonprofit animal welfare organization dedicated to the care and protection of domesticated animals in the community. HSPPR rescues and cares for animals in distress, reunites lost pets with their owners, finds loving homes for homeless animals and teaches people how to properly care for and respect animals, as well as enforces licensing and other animal ordinances.

As we all know, there are two kinds of people in this world:  dog people and cat people.  Although this show is obviously about dogs, I think it applies to cats as well.  If you are a cat person, you know what it’s like to have the love and companionship of a pet.  A Dog’s Life could just as easily (well…almost as easily) have been A Cat’s Life.

This show closes on August 22, 2015

PHOTO CREDITSBlack Box Theatre Company.

Laura Gearhart, Accompanist (with Jack).

Producer/Director:  Nancy Holaday

Vocal Direction:  Carmen Brown

Technical Director:  Kitty Robbins

Sound/Light Technician:  Evan Danforth

Projection/Light Technician:  Alex Robbins

Set Design:  Robbins Family

Accompanist (Piano):  Laura Gearhart

Makeup Designer:  Karann Goettsch

Stage Manager:  Kylie Hartnett


Jack:  Luke Schoenemann

Big Dog:  Dan Kifer

Little Dog: Alicia Franks

Joel: Mark Murphy

Man: Benji Dezaval

Annie: Kylie Hartnett

Woman: Monica Erck

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