Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you could talk to dogs? For Eddie (Ryan McCartan), the main character in Mutt House, a new musical now in its world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, this is his reality. An awkward loner with severe anxiety, Eddie has been working at a tiny city-run animal shelter for years—his life revolves around it so much that he even lives in the back room. But when the mayor decides to shut down the shelter, dooming the dogs within it to the worst fate, Eddie has to find a way to break out of his shell and save his four-legged friends.
Created and written by Tony Cookson, Mutt House is an adorably earnest show. It includes 18 original songs, with music and lyrics by Cookson, John Daniel, Robb Curtis Brown, ad David O. Directed by Ryan Bergmann, all of the dogs in the story are played by humans. They all have distinct personalities and share a deep love for Eddie, the nicest and literally most understanding human most of them have ever known.
There’s a chihuahua named Pepe (Gabriel González), a mutt named Donna (Amanda Leigh Jerry), and a lovable corgi named Max (Max Wilcox). Bradley (Garrett Marshall) is a pitbull who was rescued from a dog-fighting ring, and Digger (Ben Palacios) is a handsome labrador and the object of all the female dogs’—and at least one of the male’s—affection. If this was high school, he would be the popular jock. As the clock starts to tick on the shelter’s life span, there is a new addition, a French Poodle named Sophie (Valerie Larsen) who is an acclaimed show dog and at first turns her nose up at shelter living and at the other less “civilized” dogs. As Eddie and his longtime boss, Gerry (Boise Holmes) scramble to find a way to appeal to the mayor and save the dogs, Eddie must overcome some bad memories of high school bullying involving Hannah (Claire Adams), an old crush turned foe who now works for the cold-hearted mayor (Heather Olt).
The target audience for this show is definitely younger-skewing—the plot is basic and formulaic, and the characters are fairly archetypal. The show shines brightest and feels the most unique when the focus is on the dogs, each of whom gets a song and a turn in the spotlight. The music is catchy and amusing—for example, Max the corgi sings a song entitled “I’m Lying Here (Scratch Me),” expressing a dog’s inner monologue when waiting to be pet by a new human. Donna gets a ballad called “When He Sniffs Me,” in which she sings about her crush on Digger. The stakes are clear and established almost immediately, and you’ll be shocked to hear that this musical builds to a heart-warming, happy ending.
McCartan, who recently appeared in The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Fox, is excellent in the lead role, bringing a strong voice and a clear personality to Eddie. While Eddie’s extreme anxiety often veers into the territory of harmful mental illness stereotypes, he arcs nicely throughout the show, with some assistance from his canine pals. McCartan and Adams are very charming together in the central love story, particularly when Eddie, with the help of Max the corgi, helps Hannah tackle her fear of dogs that resulted from a childhood trauma. The actors playing the dogs are a delight, and it is entertaining to watch them adapt dog mannerisms. The costumes (Allison Dillard) are creative, utilizing a backwards baseball cap with ears added to it, or sticking tails on the actors to make them just dog-like enough. While adult dog lovers will find plenty to enjoy here, this is a musical for children who love Disney movies with mustache-twirling villains and plucky heroes. One thing is for sure—it will definitely make you smile.
Mutt House runs at the Kirk Douglas Theatre through August 5th. The running time is two hours, including one intermission. Performances are Wednesdays at 8pm, Thursdays at 8:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm. Tickets start at $39 and can be purchased here.