By Olivia Popp
While a vaguely cute idea at first glance, saying that “Mutt House” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre is a complete trainwreck of a musical is the understatement of the year. “Mutt House” is a raging dumpster fire, a bonfire that nobody wanted — no, a large wildfire started by methane released from some dog stool (is my science right?) that accidentally caught fire by some rich suburban white kid playing with matches in his parents’ bedroom as a match fell out of a window and into the spacious backyard of the family’s country home. I’ll keep this as short as possible because I shouldn’t subject you to more torture than absolutely necessary. I’m hoping this won’t scar. I love dogs, and even the inkling of the subject matter didn’t help.
The musical can’t even be remotely repaired by the cast, who is, coincidentally, also given very little chance to shine. Eddie (Disney alum Ryan McCartan) is a former dorky, awkward kid turned … dorky, awkward hot kid. He literally lives at the local pound with dogs, and he can literally talk to dogs. When he speaks English, the dogs can understand him, and when the dogs “speak,” he hears English — or something like that. These dogs include Pepe the chihuahua (Gabriel Gonzalez), Donna the mutt (Amanda Leigh Jerry), Sophie the poodle (Valerie Larsen), Bradley the pit bull (Garrett Marshall), Digger the Labrador (Ben Palacios) and Max the corgi (Max Wilcox). Eddie is urged by his boss Gerry (Boise Holmes) to actually find real housing, but once Eddie discovers the power-hungry Mayor Jenkins (Heather Olt) wants to close the pound, he fights to keep it open — or more like spends 95 percent of the play singing to the dogs about not being able to figure out a way to keep it open and the last 10 minutes of the play crafting a disastrously basic plan to save it, accompanied by his middle-school-crush-who-teased-him-turned-lustful-obsession, Jenkins intern Hannah Matthews (Claire Adams). Sound bad yet?
A gentle “aww” permeated the theater as soon as the lights came up on Wilcox dressed as a corgi and singing in a high voice. I looked around in horror at the majority white audience. Did people think this was cute? Is this a white people thing? Adults dressed as dogs? Am I at a furry convention that I didn’t know about? Every time an actor made a howling noise or barked as a dog, scratching themselves or sniffing other dogs’/actors’ butts, the audience laughed and cooed. I wasn’t sure if I was missing some sort of bizarre inside joke. Right near the beginning of the musical, the pit bull drops in that Eddie’s father used to beat him, so maybe that’s why he can talk to dogs — the audience laughs, and the moment passes so fast that it’s not even clear if this is a highly offensive joke or something serious, and the subject is never brought up ever again. Ever again.
The musical takes place mostly in the interior of the pound, where Eddie continues to literally talk to the dogs. I’m not going to describe anything more about the actual plot, because there is none. It’s just song after song about how great Eddie is and various dog things including a song about dogs sniffing each others’ butts, complete with full dance and actions. There are even two songs with rap sequences — this is a warning to everybody: please do not let singers who can’t or aren’t trained in rap, rap. The results are disastrous.
The introduction of the poodle as a game-changer for the pound literally goes nowhere as she assimilates into the group after about two songs (completely defeating the purpose of the introduction of a new character as the inciting incident for a narrative). Hannah Matthews very quickly falls in love with Eddie, who is smitten with her but sings a little angry song about being called “Weird Eddie.” (Could nobody think of a wittier nickname? Hello?) She’s only mildly surprised about Eddie being able to talk to dogs, shrugging it off really quickly after a couple of uninteresting interactions — no development and virtually no chemistry between them (sorry, McCartan and Adams — your voices and performance chops were never given a chance).
Most of the awful jokes and weak, unmemorable musical numbers relied on stereotypes or euphemistic language. Pepe, a small dog who has a heavy Mexican accent, fawns over the elite and skinny poodle Sophie and dances a vaguely exploitative number to impress and de-emasculate himself for her. Donna, a dog with a strong “Jersey girl” accent, is obsessed with the sexy, handsome and fit Labrador (for reference, Palacios played Christian Grey in the national tour of “Spank! Harder,” the “50 Shades of Grey” parody), with not one, but two entire numbers devoted to how cool and effortlessly good-looking he is, the other dogs forced to join in by necessity of the ensemble musical format. The larger corgi character is consistently hinted at as gay until his crush on the pit bull is revealed and utterly laughed at, and he’s the butt of every joke — including a song utilizing a series of increasingly depraving innuendos for getting off with the aid of the hand of a human woman who “scratches him” and “rubs him in the right spots.” As a kicker, the song ends with the corgi shrieking and shaking in an orgasmic manner. Sounds as family-friendly as advertised, right?
An internet search reveals that the creator originally thought of the idea in a dream, which still doesn’t offer up any reason to why this was validly made into a musical. In a way, I desperately, desperately wished the show was some sort of satirical parody, begging for someone to come up to me and tell me that this was all ironic joke, but no. I considered leaving after the first act, not wanting to sit through any more. I didn’t. I should’ve.
I’ll admit — I’m not particularly satisfied with this review because it in no way covers all the feelings I had in those two-and-a-half hours I’ll never get back, which have come rushing back — I’m stressed and breathing hard, my chest is actually starting to get tight again and my fists are instinctively curling up into balls as I refrain from pounding on my bedroom wall in fury and frustration. I was hoping that writing this would be more cathartic than it is, because what I really need to do is scream into hundreds of pillows and pet thousands of actual dogs to recover. How many levels of creative administration did this musical need to go through? How many people approved this terrible concept?
Honestly, I don’t even want to know.
(Because of how much I now consider this one of the worst performance pieces I have ever experienced, if you want more information on the musical I will never get over, I’m happy to chat.)
Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’ stanford.edu.