What is the perfect dog?
In this case, it’s a charming musical based on an equally charming children’s book by noted actor John O’Hurley, who starred in the Laguna Playhouse production of “Peter Pan and Tinker Bell” in December.
The Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre presents “The Perfect Dog” Jan. 17–19. Inspired by O’Hurley’s book of the same name, the stage adaptation features music and lyrics by David Abbinanti (Broadway’s “Saturday Night Fever” and “Ring of Fire”) and a book by Jill Abbinanti (TV’s “Law & Order).
The play is directed by Dylan Russell, the Playhouse’s new director of Youth Theatre, Education and Outreach.
“I am excited to be here and be part of this program,” Russell said during a phone interview this week. “I started in August, but this is my first show to direct for the Youth Theatre, and I am so excited about it.”
When she selected which shows to fill out the Youth Theatre season, Russell decided “The Perfect Dog” was the “perfect” show to present to tie in to the mainstage season. O’Hurley has just been in a play there and is returning to Laguna Playhouse this spring with his one-man show.
O’Hurley’s book “The Perfect Dog” is a short read with plenty of pictures, so how do you translate that into a 70-minute musical?
“We have a plot, per se,” Russell explained. “They took the book and encapsulated it in one song about what is the perfect dog? They created the story around the essence of that song.”
According to Russell, the main character, Sam, is a 12-year-old girl who is a fan of Ideal Ida, a media star whom Sam wants to emulate. Sam leans that Ideal Ida will be judging a local dog contest, so Sam sets out to find the perfect dog, overlooking her own dog, Max, who is not so perfect. Not finding the ideal canine candidate, Sam then sets about transforming Max into a perfect dog.
“While this is going on, Sam’s mother is trying to make Sam’s father healthier by amending his diet, but she soon realizes she is actually making him more miserable,” Russell said. “Sam sees she is doing the same thing to Max. It’s great to strive for perfectionism, but people are perfect just the way they are. You don’t have to try and make them over. It’s a wonderful message about being accepting of yourself and others. Like the book says, the perfect dog is right next to you. The authors really captured the essence of the book and created a wonderful plot that really takes it to the next level. It’s absolutely adorable.”
The Youth Theatre program also takes theater to the next level for its young participants. In addition to acting on stage, a handful of future theater pros are assigned tasks such as stage manager, light operator, and stagehand, working under the guidance of professionals.
“We have some fabulous students in the program, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes,” Russell confirmed. “The students do much of tech, with adult professionals with them who teach them what it’s like to professionally put on a play.”
Show times for “The Perfect Dog” are Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. O’Hurley will be at the Friday evening performance and will host a talkback session after the show.
And for those who are curious about canine companions overshadowing the onstage actors, don’t worry — the multiple dogs in the show are portrayed by humans.
For tickets and more information, visit LagunaPlayhouse.com.