More than 63 million households in the U.S. own at least one dog, according to one survey.
That fact alone suggests the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre can figure a production of the musical “101 Dalmatians Kids” would attract interest.
Another selling point would be the immense popularity of Disney’s animated film version of the story, which first hit screens in 1961. Adding to the name recognition, a live-action version of the tale, starring Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil, premiered in 1996, with a sequel following on its heels four years later.
Then there’s the natural interest in a story combining the adorableness of puppies with fun and adventure, as Pongo and Perdita’s four offspring are stolen from their humans, Roger and Anita, by the diabolical Cruella.
“There’s a lot of dogs in there,” said Ethan Baker, who plays Pongo. “There’s a large number of people that really love dogs.”
Baker was one of five cast members of the production, which opens Thursday, who spoke during a conference call. The show, directed by Wayne Marek, opens Thursday.
Addilyn Seep, playing Cruella, noted the story’s familiarity.
“This is a childhood movie that I grew up on because my family really liked Disney. For us it’s sort of like a sense of nostalgia, I guess, sort of like the good old days,” she said with a laugh.
Lydia Jewell, who plays Anita, suggested that, contrary to appearances, “101 Dalmatians Kids” isn’t just for the younger set.
“I think the story line appeals to a lot of young kids, but it’s also interesting enough that adults can enjoy (the musical) as well,” she said.
The film studio’s track record also might provide incentive, suggested James Kircher, cast as Roger. “I think it is a really classic movie to watch,” he said. “And Disney’s a very big franchise, and I can see why people would really enjoy it.”
Asked to recount especially memorable scenes, the actors mentioned the following:
• A distress signal for help in locating the purloined puppies, called “The Twilight Bark,” as explained by Rebecca Bohannon, portraying mama dog Perdita.
“I think that scene is really fun because you see each different dog that is in London, and they all have different accents that they have to do, she said.
• Cruella’s comical alarm at discovering the puppies have sneaked away, as noted by Seep. “There’s a whole chase scene that ensues, and it’s really fun to watch,” she said.
• A summary in song of Cruella’s creepiness, which Kircher identified.
“They start giving descriptions about her, which I think is really funny, and they start impersonating her and doing the poses that she does, which I think is really hilarious,” he said.
• The “really fun” choreography, Jewell put it.
“Even though it’s pretty simple, you can really tell that we’re having fun with it and it really goes with the musical well,” she said.
Of course, a stage play won’t provide a scene-for-scene duplication of the film. For example, in the movie, Cruella and her henchmen take the dogs by simply sneaking into the home and stealing them, but the play puts that into a musical number, Bohannon noted. “They sing the dogs’ favorite song, ‘Kanine Krunchies,’ to lure them out of the house,” she said.
The music was described by Bohannon as enjoyable for the cast and audience. “It’s all very upbeat and happy, and it’s a lot of fast words, a lot of extreme diction,” she said, laughing. “It’s fun music to sing; very fun to listen to too.”
In particular, Seep finds, the music related to Cruella’s parts features a distinctive style. “They have a very big band grand type sound, which is really fun to hear because you often don’t hear that in theater pertaining to one specific character,” she said.
Some of the cast members themselves have dogs in their family and can relate to the joys of having them around the house.
Bohannon, for example, has grown up with a dog (although she said that, sadly, the pet recently passed on).
“It’s fun having a dog,” she said. “Just your little support animal that you always have, and they’re fun to play with and fun to be around.”
Kircher also has appreciated canines’ company while growing up. With that experience he suggested it makes sense the creators of “101 Dalmatians Kids” would have scenes in which the dogs dance because “sometimes dogs act like they want to dance.”
However, liking dogs as a family pet isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying “101 Dalmatians Kids,” Bohannon pointed out.
“I definitely think there’s something that can be fun for everyone in the show,” she said, “even if you love dogs or absolutely hate them.”