Review: 'Dog Man: The Musical' celebrates a cop who sniffs out crime

This is, after all, the bizarro world of Dav Pilkey, author and illustrator of such bestselling graphic novels for children as the Dog Man series and the Captain Underpants books.

Review: 'Dog Man: The Musical' celebrates a cop who sniffs out crime

This is, after all, the bizarro world of Dav Pilkey, author and illustrator of such bestselling graphic novels for children as the Dog Man series and the Captain Underpants books. Producer TheaterWorksUSA and the musical’s writers — Kevin Del Aguila (book and lyrics) and Brad Alexander (score) — have adeptly transferred Pilkey’s inventive, irreverent and mildly vulgar sensibilities to the Lucille Lortel Theater’s stage. Like “Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties,” the book that is its chief inspiration, the show is based on the premise that it is actually the work of fifth-grade boys. And you know fifth-grade boys.

The two here are George (Forest VanDyke) and Harold (Dan Rosales), who set out to turn one of the comic books they’ve written into a musical. The action, portrayed by a capable adult cast, centers on the boys’ hero, Dog Man, who has a human body and a dog’s head.

This odd anatomy is the result of surgeons’ attempts to make the best of an on-the-job disaster that gravely wounded a police officer and his canine companion. (Shades of “RoboCop,” but far less gruesome, though some parents may object that a bomb is involved.) Convincingly played by Brian Owen, Dog Man proves to be a dedicated cop, except for annoying habits like drinking from the toilet and sniffing his colleagues’ behinds.

He has his work cut out for him. The villains here are a diabolical cat, Petey (Jamie LaVerdiere, in full mustache-twirling, or I should say whisker-twirling, mode), and an evil bionic fish with psychokinetic abilities named Flippy (Crystal Sha’nae, who expertly channels Donna Summer in a rousing disco number). Petey tries to augment his own power by duplicating himself but is shocked to discover that his clone, L’il Petey (L.R. Davidson), emerges as a sweet-natured kitten with a toddler’s inquisitiveness.

They’re an amusing lot, and my only quibble is the same one I have with the novel: All the really interesting characters are male. Although the production features women in two major roles, they’re still playing guys.

Otherwise, the creative team shines. Breezily directed and choreographed by Jen Wineman, the show benefits from Tim Mackabee’s designs for the set and some small puppets, which preserve the novel’s comic-book feel. Alexander has deftly attuned his high-energy score to the characters’ personalities, infusing Flippy’s anthem with rafter-ringing soul and L’il Petey’s signature song with a nursery rhyme’s lilt.

Del Aguila, who has given the lyrics his own imaginative flourishes, has preserved the novel’s wry parody of Charles Dickens. At a recent performance, when a contrite and newly generous Petey intoned, “It is a far, far better thing that I do … ” the grown-ups in the audience started howling. You have to love a family show that makes adults laugh, too.

‘Dog Man: The Musical’

Through Aug. 4 at the Lucille Lortel Theater, Manhattan; 866-811-4111, twusa.org. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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