It's a good thing there's a dog in "No Dogs Allowed," because Konrad Case, playing family pet El Exigente, is what elementary-school kids enjoyed most about the musical at a Thursday preview.
That's a tribute to Case, who's the only cast member with no lines. But he frolics, pants, howls and, even when sitting in one place, shimmies in his furry costume. The kids loved watching him act up.
They especially got excited during a section in which El Exigente runs away, and the audience is called on to help the family find him.
The show, based on the children's book by Sonia Manzano, opened at the Rose Friday night. Manzano is widely known as Maria on "Sesame Street."
Her story is about a family outing in the station wagon to Enchanted State Park. Even though El Exigente caused all kinds of trouble on the last family trip, little sis Iris (Hope Clark) disobeys her parents and smuggles the dog along when nobody's looking.
She can't bear to leave behind a family member.
Still, it's not an easy decision, as Iris sings in "I Don't Know What to Do."
The trip is filled with adventure. A full-size 1970s Olds Custom Cruiser station wagon complete with fake wood paneling on the side takes center stage for this show. And during the song "The Rules," everybody disobeys the practical advice to "just bring what you need" as they stuff the huge wagon to the roof.
The car breaks down along the way, giving newlyweds Aunt Carmen (Anna Stergiou) and Uncle Juan (Walter Shatley) a chance to tango and flirt while good-natured Papi (Ryle Smith) fixes it.
Don Joe (Brian-Mark Conover), a deli store owner, has a whole song about his fixation on making sandwiches. Big sister Shorty (Samantha Shatley) sings about how tiring it is to always be right — and she is, pointing out what others miss.
When the car is finally fixed, Papi promptly gets lost, since the map has a mysterious hole chewed into it. But Mami (Wendy Eaton) and a policeman help him get on the right track.
And when they get to the park, a No Dogs Allowed sign brings things to a head.
Happily, all the family members take turns sitting with El Exigente in the parking lot. Mami knits, Papi listens to baseball on the radio, Shorty reads and everybody has a good time.
The show owes a lot to scenic designer Robbie Jones, whose roll-by pieces of scenery nicely give a sense of car movement. A double row of lighted windows, hung against a black backdrop, cleverly (and economically) represent the Puerto Rican family's apartment building in the Bronx.
Music director Jerry Brabec kept the cast in time with recorded orchestrations, and Sue Gillespie Booton's choreography enlivened the journey. Guest director Randi Collins Hard has mounted a fine show for kids of single-digit ages. Parents and grandparents will identify with many family-vacation moments.
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