Tuesday night, in 101 minutes of pure fun, performed without an intermission, nine-time Tony Award winner Tommy Tune royally entertained Broadway Series South patrons of all ages as he sauntered about the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium stage, talking to the animals in the brand-new musical version of Dr. Dolittle, based on song and screenwriter Leslie Bricusse’s underrated 1967 Twentieth Century Fox film, with its Oscar-winning song, “Talk to the Animals.”
The 6’6” song-and-dance man extraordinaire creates a fully three-dimensional and utterly charming long-legged characterization of Dr. John P. Dolittle. English-born American novelist Hugh Lofting’s vivacious veterinarian learned more than 200 animal languages to better treat all creatures great and small in the idyllic Victorian village of Puddleby-in-the-Marsh or during voyages of adventure to far corners of the globe such as Monkey-Monkey Island, the home Chee-Chee the tap-dancing chimpanzee (impishly impersonated by 12-year-old tap-dancer and irrepressible scene-stealer Aaron Burr).
Tall three-time Tony nominee Dee Hoty adds to her theatrical laurels with a warm and witty portrayal of Dr. Dolittle’s neighbor, one-time nemesis, and eventual soul mate Emma Fairfax. Initially indignant about the disruptions caused by the good doctor’s eccentric behavior, Emma grows to admire his extraordinary empathy with his two- and four-footed patients and eventually stows away on Dr. Dolittle’s ship to follow him in his quixotic pursuits of a legendary Giant Sea Snail that hasn’t been seen in decades.
Joel Blum is a pip as crusty circus proprietor Albert Blossom, and Scott Leiendecker and Jonathan Richard Sandler are cute as the fabled Pushmi/Pullyu that finds a safe home in Blossom’s circus. Kudos are also due to puppeteer/performers Denise Payne-Lennon (subbing for Sandi DeGeorge as Polynesia the parrot with operatic pretensions); Leslie M. Klose (subbing for Allan Mangaser) and Jessica Wu (who jointly play Jip the ultra-shaggy sheepdog); David F.M. Vaughn and Eric Webley (who jointly bring Toggle the sway-backed old plow horse to life); Matthew Crowle (who plays Gub-Gub the pig with the hollow leg); Elisa Van Dyke, Steven Wenslawski, and Joe Jackson (who play seal lovers Sophie and Ernie); Jonathan Richard Sandler (who also plays Jean-Pierre the Giant Sea Snail); and Elisa Van Duyne (who portrays the Giant Lunar Moth that flies Dr. Dolittle back to Puddleby).
Tommy Tune, who doubles as the show’s director, sets a brisk pace for this brilliantly streamlined script; and choreographer Patti Colombo enlivens the proceedings with some dazzling dance routines, with the “Monkey-Monkey Island Dance” and the snowy wedding sequence serving as showstoppers. Musical director and conductor Michael Biagi, associate conductor Murray Snyder (keyboards), William Johnson (keyboards), Todd W. Barnhart (woodwinds), and Brad Briscoe (drums) make beautiful music together.
Set designer Kenneth Foy does a magnificent job of recreating the soaring storybook settings for Dr. Dolittle’s adventures, lighting designer Ken Billington artfully illuminates the action, and costume designer Dona Granata dresses the cast in an astonishing array of colorful Victorian fashions, circa 1845, and animal costumes. Together, this splendid cast and crew make Dr. Dolittle a feast for the eye as well as the ear. Don’t miss it.
Broadway Series South presents Dr. Dolittle Thursday-Friday, May 11-12, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 13, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 14, at 2 and 7 p.m. Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $18-$68. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/. Dr. Dolittle (Official Web Site): http://www.doctordolittlethemusical.com/ [inactive 8/06]. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061584/. Tommy Tune: http://www.tommytune.com/ [inactive 6/06], http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=16367, and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0876585/. Lithographs: http://www.drdolittlethemusical.com/ [inactive 8/06].