It's a dog's life. And in "Dogpark the Musical," the hot center is that canine equivalent of the singles bar, the dog park.
Here a passel of pooches meet to sniff, well, everything, come on to each other and swap doggie one-liners ("The trouble with obedience school is you learn all this stuff you'll never use in the real world").
"Dogpark the Musical" was written by the husband-and-wife team of Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Michael J. Hume, all of Ashland. Beecham directed, and Hillgartner wrote the music and handled musical direction.
The show had a grrrreat opening Friday night at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, but howl you know if you don't check it out?
Daisy (Jillian Van Niel) is a sassy Westie. Itchy (Chris Carwithen) is a neurotic Jack Russell terrier. Champ (Kyle Smith) is a show dog who is a legend in his own mind. Bogie (Scott Fuss) is a stray mutt with a mysterious past.
We never meet their humans. They're probably still driving around the block looking for a place to bark.
We quickly see the personalities. Bogie has a proprietary, almost (dare we say it?) cat-like attitude about the park: everything is his. Don't believe him? Just sniff it. Hey, that's his!
Itchy's insecure and a bit of a hypochondriac. He once had fleabitis. He's humperactive. He's even afraid he has sniffilis.
Daisy can't help it if she's sexy. When she enters, the guys go on sniff alert. She thinks a group for human singles called Lovers With Leashes sounds like something kinky.
Champ, who's been checking his pee-mail, goes all alpha on us, bragging about his career in show biz. Wasn't that him in the Beggin' Strips commercial?
And in that Lassie remake with this dialogue: (as heard by Champ/Lassie)
Human: Blah blah blahblahblahblahblahblah, Lassie.
Lassie: Timmy's in the well!
There's the usual small talk about the usual subjects. Agility class. Gossip (Itchy's been seen with a Siberian hussy). And everybody's worst fear, the Fourth of July.
Daisy suspects Champ might be handing her a line.
Her: You learned an accent for a photo shoot?
Him: I get into my roles.
Events quickly spiral toward yappy hour and the latest singles craze, speed-mating. There is a brief diversion in a number called "Hot Dogs," in which a couple of major hotties enter but turn out to be our guys in doggie drag looking like singers in an '80s hair band.
Daisy is just looking for love, as she tells us in a torchy number with the help of a backup group (the Daisy-ettes?) of purse puppy puppets who pop their shaggy heads up to sing.
This prompts a romantic ballad called "Someone, Somewhere, Someday" from Bogie, who is by now head over paws for Daisy. Ever the romantic tough guy, he turns to us and says ruefully, "Of all the dog parks in all the cities ... ."
One of the best musical numbers is "Deep Dog Doo Wop" (think about it), a doo wop number that for some reason finds Itchy done up in a bumble-bee costume like that guy on "The Simpsons" who's always saying, "Ay, ay, ay! No es bueno!"
Another is "The Big House Opera," a scary song that raises the specter of (gasp! whine! pant!) Animal Control and gives our dogs a chance to come off as tough mugs in an old Cagney flick. Who knew euthanization could be a such great topic for gags?
"Dogpark" uses a recorded soundtrack that runs to hot jazz by a band calling itself Les Chiens Chauds de Paris. Gabriel Ash's set is mainly clever flats, the K-9 Clubhouse, cartoon trees and shrubs, cars for dogs to ride in.
I do have one bone to pick. Why the Space Needle? You mean, we're in Seattle? Why not, say, the Table Rocks? OK, I'll stop whining.
Opening night was a generous fundraiser for Friends of the Animal Shelter. "Dogpark" runs through May 26 at OCT. It's more fun than drinking out of the toilet.
Find ticket information at the OCT box office, First and Hargadine streets in Ashland, call 541-488-2902 or see www.oregoncabaret.com.
Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.