Off Broadway

MCC Theater Wins The War with Space Dogs, the Musical

MCC Theater Wins The War with Space Dogs, the Musical

They were dogs!” and “These were their names!” And with that silly simplistic refrain blasted out loud and clear from its two creators and stars, Space Dogs, a new musical at the off-Broadway MCC Theater (which ended its run on March 20th, 2022), springs with science non-fiction glory into action. It’s a lovable nod to a moment in history that ricochets about the theatre with an infectious glee, guaranteed to make you smile, mainly because of the wild enthusiasm by the writing talented team of Van Hughes (Deaf West/Broadway’s Spring Awakening) and Nick Blaemire (Keen Co’s Tick, Tick…Boom!). In what has to be the most rambunctious passion project around about scientists sending stray dogs into space feels genuinely kind-hearted, although somewhat like a feel-good entry into some obscure fringe festival. The musical dutifully and charmingly traces the story of how the Soviet Union used a pack of dogs; no, not the stuffed variety adorably utilized on stage, smoking cigarettes and engaging in casual prison talk as designed by Amanda Villalobos (Broadway’s Is This A Room), but the real-life variety, to keep the Soviet Union ahead of the United States in their desire to conquer space. One doggy at a time.

Van Hughes and Nick Blaemire in Space Dogs at MCC Theater.
(© Daniel J. Vasquez)

It’s the cutest construction, in what honestly feels like the most strange tense time to be playfully engaging with Russians and their Cold War antics as a real war rages in Ukraine. But if that separation can happen inside your brain, I can safely say it is because of the inventiveness of Hughes, Blaemire, the finely focused direction of Ellie Heyman (AMFAR’s “The Great Work Begins…“), and the tuned-in playful choreography by Darrell Grand Moultrie (TNG/Vineyard’s Daddy). They all seem to be having a grand old time, sharing their utter fascination with the tale, or should I say, the tail being illuminated here, and even if the team fails to make you as excited by the story as they obviously are, the encapsulation and the energetic performances of these two really do keep you focused, charmed, and engaged.

Nick Blaemire and Van Hughes in Space Dogs at MCC Theater.
(© Daniel J. Vasquez)

For reasons that are questionable,” Sergei Korolev, one of the many roles played by Hughes, finds himself placed in the distinguished, but tense position of Chief Designer of the Soviet space program, ordered, not so subtly, to win the space war with the US at all costs. Inside that race is one stray dog by the name of Laika who Korolev unwittingly develops a strong emotional bond. Laika, the world-famous Russian dog who went down in history as the first animal to orbit the earth in 1957, becomes not only his focal point, but ours as well, as they blast this stuffed beast up into the stars. The two creators strengthen our care and attachment to the adorable puppet with each cleverly created song from a catalog that seems to rocket us through a wildly varied encyclopedia of ballads and anthems with ease. None of them will really remain for too long in your memory, but when performed so vividly and enthusiastically by these two buddies, the space war will feel won, even before the first blast off into space.

Playfully enhabiting the wise and acrobatic theatrical space, designed with appeal by Wilson Chin (Broadway’s Pass Over), with fun costumes by Haydee Zelideth Antuñano (Pipeline/Ars Nova’s Playing Hot), exacting lighting by Mary Ellen Stebbins (HERE’s Between The Bars), and a strong sound design by Nathan Leigh (NYTW’s Nat Turner in Jerusalem), Hughes and Blaemire, inside all the roles they take on, find an equally adorable balance of playfulness and geeky educational instruction never letting us fall too far out of their inner crafty circle. It’s an impressive feat, finding emotional clarity in all the relationships they so dutifully present, particularly the one between Korolev and the stuffed dog, Laika. We care about Laika right to the bitter end, not because the stuffed dog is so adorable, which it is, but because the creators obviously care so very very much on every level, and infuse the piece and their songs with that love. Their chemistry is contagious, delivering sneakily and with a smart sense of fun into every aspect of their musical space project. Space Dogs certainly did entertain, but maybe not with the same level of enthusiasm the creators have living and breathing inside.

Space Dogs ended its run at MCC Theater on West 52nd Street in New York City on March 20th, 2022. For more information, visit here.

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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