Sgt. Stubby, The Great American War Dog Musical
By: Patrick Christiano
The best thing about Sgt. Stubby, The Great American War Dog Musical is that the show sheds light on a remarkable canine and his heroic efforts during World War I. Stubby, the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry, was a stray that served in the military for 18 months participating in 17 battles on the Western Front, while ultimately becoming a decorated war hero and being promoted to the rank of Sergeant in the process. At home his feats were front-page news documenting how he saved his regiment from a surprise mustard gas attack, rescued the wounded, and once even caught a German soldier by the seat of his pants holding him prisoner until American soldiers found him.
Returning home after the war, Stubby was a celebrity leading parades and meeting with Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Warren G. Harding. For nearly a decade after the war Stubby was the most famous animal in the United States. When he died in 1926 the “New York Times” honored him with an obituary that was half a page long.
Many of Stubby’s adventures are included in the musical, written and directed by Jack Dyville, with pleasant tunes by Lawrence Wankel. The two men share credit for co-writing the lyrics, which are serviceable in moving the story along, while doing little to develop the characters.
The heartwarming tale follows Stubby’s journey from a stray hanging out with his cronies, Penelope, Marvin, and Ralphie, to being adopted by the 102nd infantry chronicling his heroics while winning over their reluctant Captain, and finally his triumphant return to the states and reunion with his fellow strays. The story is a sure-fire crowd pleaser for dog lovers and history buffs, but unfortunately the sound design is a challenge the production fails to rise above. The quality of the pre-recorded music is consistently poor.
The likeable cast, apparently chosen for their dancing skills, turn in earnest work under Mr. Dyville’s guidance, however their performances are broadly one dimensional, and their singing voices are difficult to hear without mics. There is little delineation between the humans and the dogs, except face paint on the animals. Adding short tails or stubs for tails and more fur to the costumes would have gone a long way in establishing the canines, and possibly given the actors something to play with while attempting to embody the dogs. As staged, the actors come across as people playing a quality with only Meghan Miller successfully transforming herself into a believable dog.
Stubby will also be memorialized on film in Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, an upcoming animated film scheduled for release in Spring 2018, featuring the voices of Gérard Depardieu and Helena Bonham Carter directed by former Disney and DreamWorks animator Daniel St. Pierre, with music by Academy Award nominee Patrick Doyle.
Sgt. Stubby, the Great American War Dog Musical opened on Saturday, December 3, 2016 at St Luke’s Theater, 308 West 46th Street, and is now playing an open-ended run with performances on Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 2PM. For tickets call 212-2396200 or in person at the box office.
Photos: Lynn Manuell & Barry Gordin