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Mutt House

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Mutt House is a relentlessly genial new musical aimed at a family audience. The routine storyline combines guileless comedy and a dash of Frank Capra sentimentality to tell the story of Eddie Corbin (the sensational Ryan McCartan), a misfit young man who lives in a city-run animal shelter which, apparently, houses only dogs. And, in a tribute to Dr. Dootlittle or, perhaps more aptly Mr. Ed,  he speaks fluent canine.

Eddie’s chance meeting with his high school crush, Hannah Matthews (Claire Adams), reveals that the shelter is scheduled to be closed. Greedy Mayor Jenkins (Heather Olt), in the Lionel Barrymore role, is anxious to shut down a number of properties in order to line her pockets. Mild-mannered Eddie realizes that he must take a stand in order to save his pups.

The show opens with a raucous musical introduction to the dogs in the pound, then moves directly to a surprising sequence in which Eddie is ordered to put down Joanie (Valerie Larsen), an old bloodhound. Eddie and the other dogs sing, “All You Need,” to my knowledge, the only paean to euthanasia in musical theatre. But that’s pretty much the only surprise in Tony Cookson’s overly familiar book. Even the talking-to-animals idea, which might have put a fresh spin on foiling the mayor’s plans, is relegated to a tangent.

Disney, Pixar, and even Bullwinkle have proven that it’s possible to keep youngsters happy while still offering enough adult references to delight both sides of the age spectrum. Cookson is definitely catering to the younger set, and, at two hours with intermission, Mutt House may be pushing the attention envelope.

The score, which is attributed to Cookson, John Daniel, Robb Curtis Brown, and David O, is both pleasant and catchy. Particularly a couple of rousing Latin-influenced numbers. Though, once again, the lyrics which are attributed to the same group, veer to the juvenile.

Creator Cookson is particularly lucky in his creative team. Director Ryan Bergmann keeps the action clear and brisk, but he doesn’t hesitate to spend time on Eddie’s emotional growth. David O’s energetic orchestrations fill the theatre, and Allison Dillard’s costume design strikes just the right tone.

The cast is terrifically talented and easily raise the roof in their ensemble numbers. But McCartan’s Eddie is the heart of the show, and he owns every moment he’s on stage. His smooth sound has a palpable strength behind it, and his sense of phrasing harkens back to an earlier age of performers. While the glasses and the geeky outfit may not hide his matinee-idol looks, he plays the role with utter sincerity, finding ticks and cringing reactions that reveal Eddie’s character. It’s a masterful turn and I look forward to seeing him tackle more challenging material in the future.

Adam’s Hannah doesn’t give her anything close to her recent tour de force in Violet, but she provides a believable love interest for Eddie as she learns to embrace her inner nerd. Boise Holmes’ strongly-voiced Gerry, the manager of the shelter, will have you wishing he had more to do, and Olt does a nice job differentiating her over-the-top evil Mayor and her likable Officer Jackie.

Kirk Douglas Theatre    July 15 – August 5, 2018




Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.