Los Angeles pet lovers.
BARK, The Musical
By Lori Golden
Going to the “theatah” has always been a special experience for me, ever since my uncle took me to see my first Broadway musical, Oliver, when I was very young. Despite growing up near New York City, seeing a Broadway show was not something we did all that often. Instead, we tended to see Broadway imports at the more local (and affordable) Papermill Playhouse in a nearby town. Broadway or not, it never really mattered because that shared theatrical experience was always so very special. Even when I worked on The Tony Awards one year and could see EVERY show on Broadway that was either new or a Tony contender, I was never jaded about the theater. For me it was always magic. And that’s the same feeling I had when I saw BARK, The Musical!
I’ve actually seen BARK! twice. I’ll admit I wasn’t too excited about going the first time because I had no idea what the show was about. I was expecting a juvenile-targeted production with people dressed in cute, furry canine costumes doing Lord, only knows what, on stage. I’d seen quite a number of “little shows” in local theater here in LA, and frankly I was not usually all that impressed. Not so with this production! From the opening chorus of Bark!, which introduces the ensemble cast of six, called “The Pack,” to its reprise at the show’s finale, I was hooked!
It’s possible I watched the entire show with my mouth open in astonishment… at the superb vocal talents of the cast (Chad Borden, Joshua Finkel, Lauri Johnson, Ginny McMath, Joe Souza and Katherine Von Til) and especially because of the incredible quality of the songs, both music and lyrics! (Music and musical direction by David Troy Francis; lyrics byGavin Geoffrey Dillard and Robert Schrock with additional lyrics by Jonathan Heath, Danny Lukic and Mark Winkler) To be able to understand every word being sung is unique in itself. But the variety of musical styles that permeates this show is as diverse as the different kinds of dogs cleverly sung about in the riotous M-U-T-T Rap number. This is no small, local production destined to an afterlife in community or college theaters. BARK! is SO GOOD it deserves, like its cast of canines, to stake out its territory and make its mark on Broadway.
As with any production of this caliber, there are lots of people involved in its creation and execution, too many, I’m afraid, to list here. However, the overall look, movements and basic simplicity of this show that forces the audience to FEEL the emotions of its canine cast must be credited to its director and choreographer Kay Cole.
BARK! took about three years to create and bring to the stage, the genesis of its idea coming from its musical genius, David Troy Francis. “I had composed some songs for a short mockumentary film about dogs,” explains David, “and I got the idea that a musical about dogs from their point of view might be fun to write. I had never composed or produced a musical before. My partner Michael Boustead, Jerry Ryan and A. Chandler Warren are the other producers whose knowledge and efforts led to Bark!”
For David, whose background is primarily classical music, the most difficult part about mounting this show “were the things in which I had no previous experience… such as understanding theatrical contracts, which are quite different from recording contracts, for example. I read contracts from eight separate theatrical productions three times trying to understand the terminology. It was tedious but necessary work. Some of the personalities and egos one comes across can also be exasperating. It is worth noting that of those people we encountered who are high maintenance none have dogs themselves. Interesting, eh?”
David, and his partner, producer Michael Boustead, “share their home with their loving dogs Rosie & Ben and cool cats Shostakovich and Kabalevski.” Other members of the cast and crew also mention their companion animals in the show’s program. So how did these furry friends affect the creation of Bark!?
“Our two dogs and two cats influenced this show mightily,” answers David. “The Siren Symphony (one of this author’s favorite numbers) exists because of our beloved dogs. I wanted to explain why dogs howl when they hear sirens… and it is not because the sound hurts their ears! Most of the creative team for Bark! love their animals dearly. All the animals influenced this show in every way because all the dogs influence who we are as people.”
For Michael Boustead, who also entered the musical theater world as a Producer for the first time, the most difficult thing for him was “how much time and work it takes to keep a production like Bark! going. It’s a full time job!” Michael, like David, is also an accomplished composer of classical music as well as a music editor for film.
One of the smartest things the Bark! creative team did was to seek the endorsement of The Humane Society of The United States (HSUS) Hollywood Office. Smart, because the person they had to meet with was HSUS Vice President Gretchen Wyler, herself no stranger to Broadway.
“Joe Fusco, a volunteer at The Genesis Awards, called me one day in August asking if I would agree to meet with friends of his who were the creative team behind the musical Bark! which was to open in September,” recalls Gretchen. “Having performed in a dozen musicals, I was curious that a musical would want an endorsement, but of course I agreed to such a meeting.”
“I found myself quite dazzled by their plans,” Gretchen continues, “and I was intrigued with the concept. Nonetheless, before we give an endorsement, I told them I would have to see the script and read the lyrics. The next day, my request was granted, and I continued my enthusiasm after having read the script and all of the heartfelt sentiments expressed in the songs. I eagerly gave it “Two Paws Up!”
Not only did Bark! get the endorsement of the HSUS, it also got an enthusiastic supporter in the guise of Gretchen Wyler. “Since 1950 (yikes!), I’ve probably seen every show produced on Broadway, and most that were produced Off. I’m absolutely drawn to live theater, and despite fears expressed over the years, worrying that that art form would die, it never will. Bark! is unique - and for anyone who’s ever loved an animal, it certainly reaches a whole new population of theater goers with a very compelling message."
Those messages put forth in Bark! run the full gamut from what these doggies think of their doting “parents” to why they might howl all day. There’s the dog who gets neutered, another who ferociously guards her house, and a show stopping number with the “Stud Pack” that deals with fleas.
When I saw the show the first time, there was one song, A Grassy Field, that literally made me cry. It’s a beautiful, simple song about saying good-bye… but for me, it stirred up emotions I don’t think I had truly expressed since I said good-bye to my dear departed Maxx two years ago.
I must have great taste, because of all the songs in Bark!, composer David Troy Francis’s favorites are Bark! and… A Grassy Field
As I said, I’ve seen Bark! twice, and that’s something I rarely do. I’m not a fan of repeats. But the second time I went it was like seeing this show for the first time. It was only about six weeks after my first experience there, but this time I could appreciate more the little nuances of the performances, the lyrics, and the phenomenal music.
My friend, Eileen Smulson, is a relatively new doggie parent. Her thoughts about Bark!? “The strong ensemble of performers made you believe that they were really dogs and could really feel their myriad of emotions. The singing was Broadway show quality. Even a non-dog owner will be captivated. I could not wait to come home to hug Ginger, our mixed terrier we were so lucky to rescue.”
(For one more opinion, see the accompanying review by my friend Nora Fraser, aka “The Movie Mom” from TV’s The Home Show.
While Bark! has been extended here, in LA, until the New Year, David thinks the show is going to have a life beyond this production. “I composed around 47 separate songs for this show and definitely have some favorites that are not in this production. We have a song that deals with medical research on animals and another that deals with “working” dogs and what happens to them afterwards (greyhounds/police dogs/etc.). These songs deal with subject matters that are quite dark and didn’t seem appropriate to be included in this production. I hope very much to find a way to include them in the next production.”
Gretchen Wyler seems optimistic, as well, about the future of Bark!: “I still believe it might travel the continent and end up Off-Broadway. We are proud to endorse this truly unique musical, which says more about dogs than the long-runningCats ever did about our feline friends. Bark! raises the bar of understanding about the quirks and needs of man’s best friend.”
Perhaps Michael Boustead said it best when talking about his favorite song in Bark! – the next to the last number, Life Should Be Simple. “The song for me encapsulates all the diverse themes of Bark! (for canines and humans)... Bark!is much more than dogs singing to each other. Bark! is about, well, everyone and you. Bark! is about loving your life... but needing the basics… like a handful of kibble, fresh water and air... and especially a loving hand to pet you!”
Don’t miss out on the chance to experience a wonderful night at the theater. And if you’re part of a rescue group, ask about their fundraising opportunities. Bark!. Now playing at The Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood. For tickets and more information visit www.barkthemusical.com
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