Go, People. Go! A review of "Go, Dog. Go!" from TYKEs Theatre
by Debra Ross
Dogs at work. Work, dogs, work!
Think about classics like Dr. Seuss's The Sneetches or Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends: These timeless picture books have many layers that allow adults to appreciate the work on their terms while kids do so on their own level. Other books that kids adore, on the other hand, turn parents' brains to mush by the third reading (Thomas the Tank Engine was my personal Waterloo).
Somewhere between these two extremes are books like P.D. Eastman's Go, Dog. Go!: This is a book that parents enjoy because their kids do. So although Go, Dog. Go! offers no profound insights for adults, it gives toddlers through kindergartners developmentally-perfect learning and humor. Originally published in 1961, it has been a classic since I was a kid.
So why NOT make Go, Dog. Go! into a musical?
I can think of all kinds of reasons NOT to turn kids' classics into musicals: Primary among them is that they often translate poorly; the musical often ends up as a pale shadow of the original work with none of the original charm, and, as such, does the book an injustice.
So it was a big relief to see that TYKEs' production of Go, Dog. Go! actually enhances a kid's experience of what the book is about.
So what IS Go, Dog. Go! about?
Let's be brainy for a moment: Go, Dog. Go! is about sensory contrasts. And contrasts of the senses are how kids learn about the world: Blue looks different from red, hot sun feels different from cool water, you sense the pull of the earth as you go up and down and around and around. People do different things at different times: In the day, we work and play. And then afterward...
- Now it is night. Night is not a time for play. It is time for sleep. The dogs go to sleep. They will sleep all night.
Millions of parents have repeated this passage many millions of times, with a kind of wistful firmness, to their 3-year-olds. "They will sleep all night." (See, Madison? The doggies sleep all night. And now it's YOUR turn...)
That's pretty much it for the substance of Go, Dog. Go!: Red, green, yellow, and blue dogs going about their business working and playing, going up, down, in, and out, spinning around, driving cars, having parties on boats at night despite the fact that night is a time for sleep, and wondering whether one's aesthetic taste in hats is reciprocated (spoiler alert...it will be, but not until the end of the book).
Can a book without a plot really be transformed into an hour-long musical?
You wouldn't think so. Steven Dietz and Allison Gregory, who adapted P.D. Eastman's story for the stage, rely almost exclusively on the very-spare dialogue from the book. And really, not a whole lot happens. Musicals need plots, don't they, in order to keep the attention?
Well, consider what I said about sensory contrasts above. Music is NOTHING if not sensory. So adding music—especially as performed by the stellar professional actors that perform for TYKEs—actually enhances the preschooler's sensory experience of the book.
The book is almost pure silliness, which little kids and big kids love, and which translates seamlessly into the physical comedy that is what captivates us in Go, Dog. Go! the musical. Think vaudeville. Who needs plot, who needs dialogue, when you've got physical comedy... silly, exaggerated expressions... snappy music... and a dash of wild exuberance. All the elements of vaudeville are exactly what entrance the average preschooler. You've got dogs having pillow fights and singing zany "scat" music, you've got swinging ladders and a poodle wearing ever-crazier hats.
The people behind the dogs
The cast of Go, Dog. Go! was terrific; they were spot-on (pun possibly intended) in their singing, and they clearly love what they're doing: Matt Mayne as Red Dog (disclosure: Matt directed my kids in The Wiz earlier this year), Amanda Eaton as Yellow Dog, and Doug Kester as MC Dog (I'll never forget him on skates) were particular standouts. I love how TYKEs always makes the actors available for photos and hugs in the lobby; the kids mobbed their favorite dogs after the show and were welcomed with grace and enthusiasm. Special kudos go to Linda Starkweather and David Daniels for set design: Those folks know exactly what they're doing.
For what ages is the stage version of Go, Dog. Go! appropriate?
The audience target age for Go, Dog. Go! is the same as the book: age 2 to 6. I've seen official recommendations for the musical in the 3-5 range. But the TYKEs production is so engaging that everyone from age 2 and up was entranced. It is the perfect length, too, for the preschool set: The first half was half an hour; there was then a 15-minute intermission, and the second half was 25 minutes. At intermission, you can purchase cookies, juice, healthful snacks, and even books. I picked up a copy of Go, Dog. Go! for a colleague who (gasp!) didn't already own one.
At ages 10 and 12, my kids were the oldest in the theater by several years; that's one of the many hazards of being the child of a reviewer. But I caught even my almost-teen grinning with genuine delight when she didn't know I was looking. As for my 10-year-old: When asked for a quote, she thought a minute and said, "After all these years, I still love Go, Dog. Go! And they really did it justice."
Of course, I had a feeling she'd say that. Ella likes anything that celebrates life with music, humor, and happiness. That's why you'll like it, too.
Go, Dog. Go! is on stage at the Jewish Community Center on Edgewood Ave in Brighton, NY, Saturdays and Sundays through April 22, 2012. Saturday performance at 2pm, Sunday performances at 11am and 2pm.
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