Entertainment

Charming Dr. Doolittle is delightful for all ages

Bill Vargus as the title character in Dr. Dolittle and Tamara Anderson as Straight Arrow.

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We baby boomers grew up humming the perennial favorite, “Talk to the Animals,” made famous by Rex Harrison in the 1967 film, Dr. Doolittle. Now, “children” of all ages can enjoy that famous song, and others, as the Media Theatre presents Leslie Bricusse’s Broadway musical version, through Jan. 27.

The character of Dr. John Doolittle was first conceived by author Hugh Lofting, starting with The Story of Dr. Doolittle, written in 1920. Uncomfortable in his interactions with human patients, Doolittle discovers a unique rapport with animals. The story is set in the 1800s, and the setting is the fictional village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, England.

Starring as Doolittle is Bill Vargus, well-known television sports anchor and now a full-time actor, producer and voiceover artist.

True to the title, Doolittle is in every scene, and Vargus proves his acting mettle. He chooses an easygoing demeanor for the role, which provides a balance for the movement and action surrounding him. Of special note are his performances of the musical numbers, “Like Animals,” an impassioned plea, and “The Vegetarian,” a humorous look at his love of eating meat.

Emma Fairfax, masterfully played by Lauren Cupples, is Doolittle’s love interest, who at first is a stranger and then a foe. Cupples has a beautiful voice and easily shifts her demeanor from feisty to sweet.

Polynesia, The Parrot, is the largest “animal friend” role in the show, and Hillary Parker does justice to the part. As a mentor to Doolittle, she plays the role in a lively and graceful manner. Costume designer Gina Andreoli does a superb job with this very colorful costume, among others.

Doctor Dolittle has a few close human friends, including Matthew Mugg (Sean Thompson), Tommy Stubbins (Sadat Waddy and Michael Wells are sharing the role) and Straight Arrow (Tamara Anderson). Thompson makes the most of his singing and dancing skills in the role, and Anderson commands the stage in her featured number, “Save the Animals.”

Dan Schiff portrays a suitably gruff and pompous General Bellowes. Jef Canter shines as Blossom, the gravelly voiced circus ringmaster, who goes from a cynic to a wide-eyed believer in the number, “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It.” Molly Tower portrays his wife, Gertie Blossom, and provides yet another strong voice in this cast.

Other animal friends include Toggle (a horse, JP Dunphy); Mildred (a cow, Katelyn Lauria); Gub-Gub (a pig, Amy Bebout); Pushmi/Pullyu, Dann Dunn and Terrance Hart); Sophie (a seal, Fiona Moser); Rufus (a dog, Kurtis Morency); Nigel (a seal, Amir Newton); Chee-Chee (a monkey, Owen Mannion); Jip (a dog; Amber Duncan); Dab-Dab (a duck, Justin Fitzgerald) and The Fox (Elaina Fitzgerald) and various other animals, played by members of the Youth Ensemble, including Katheryn Cooper, Katie Davis, Shawna McHugh, Sean O’Neill and Kristiana Rannalli. Adult ensemble members did an excellent job, including Roger Ricker, Michael Wessells, Patrick Ludt and Megan Rucidlo.

Director Jesse Cline keeps the show moving and does an excellent job of keeping the large cast well-coordinated on stage. To do this, he must employ the talents of an experienced stage manager, and Tim Haney, with Assistant Stage Manager Alexander Reinhard, fits the bill. Music Director Tom Fosnocht used a small pit orchestra for all of the music in the show, and the musicians didn’t miss a beat. Continued...

As choreographer, Dann Dunn does a terrific job of creating visually pleasing pictures and lively action. Lighting designer Troy A. Martin-O’Shia’s work is especially effective during poignant moments in the show. Technical director Todd Craft, who designed the set, uses movable screens and set pieces to quickly change the scenes. Projected images and videos are used as backdrops for the scenes and as segues between them. Leading the production effort was Robert Towarnicki, with Patty Verzella handling property design.

Two special things to note: Evening performances begin at 7 p.m., perfect for children and early-risers, and the Philadelphia Zoo will have its “Zoo on Wheels” on hand before the 2 p.m. Saturday matinees for the December dates only, Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 22.

For more information and for ticket sales, visit www.mediatheatre.org or call the box office at 610-891-0100.
We baby boomers grew up humming the perennial favorite, “Talk to the Animals,” made famous by Rex Harrison in the 1967 film, Dr. Doolittle. Now, “children” of all ages can enjoy that famous song, and others, as the Media Theatre presents Leslie Bricusse’s Broadway musical version, through Jan. 27.

The character of Dr. John Doolittle was first conceived by author Hugh Lofting, starting with The Story of Dr. Doolittle, written in 1920. Uncomfortable in his interactions with human patients, Doolittle discovers a unique rapport with animals. The story is set in the 1800s, and the setting is the fictional village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, England.

Starring as Doolittle is Bill Vargus, well-known television sports anchor and now a full-time actor, producer and voiceover artist.

True to the title, Doolittle is in every scene, and Vargus proves his acting mettle. He chooses an easygoing demeanor for the role, which provides a balance for the movement and action surrounding him. Of special note are his performances of the musical numbers, “Like Animals,” an impassioned plea, and “The Vegetarian,” a humorous look at his love of eating meat.

Emma Fairfax, masterfully played by Lauren Cupples, is Doolittle’s love interest, who at first is a stranger and then a foe. Cupples has a beautiful voice and easily shifts her demeanor from feisty to sweet.

Polynesia, The Parrot, is the largest “animal friend” role in the show, and Hillary Parker does justice to the part. As a mentor to Doolittle, she plays the role in a lively and graceful manner. Costume designer Gina Andreoli does a superb job with this very colorful costume, among others.

Doctor Dolittle has a few close human friends, including Matthew Mugg (Sean Thompson), Tommy Stubbins (Sadat Waddy and Michael Wells are sharing the role) and Straight Arrow (Tamara Anderson). Thompson makes the most of his singing and dancing skills in the role, and Anderson commands the stage in her featured number, “Save the Animals.”

Dan Schiff portrays a suitably gruff and pompous General Bellowes. Jef Canter shines as Blossom, the gravelly voiced circus ringmaster, who goes from a cynic to a wide-eyed believer in the number, “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It.” Molly Tower portrays his wife, Gertie Blossom, and provides yet another strong voice in this cast.

Other animal friends include Toggle (a horse, JP Dunphy); Mildred (a cow, Katelyn Lauria); Gub-Gub (a pig, Amy Bebout); Pushmi/Pullyu, Dann Dunn and Terrance Hart); Sophie (a seal, Fiona Moser); Rufus (a dog, Kurtis Morency); Nigel (a seal, Amir Newton); Chee-Chee (a monkey, Owen Mannion); Jip (a dog; Amber Duncan); Dab-Dab (a duck, Justin Fitzgerald) and The Fox (Elaina Fitzgerald) and various other animals, played by members of the Youth Ensemble, including Katheryn Cooper, Katie Davis, Shawna McHugh, Sean O’Neill and Kristiana Rannalli. Adult ensemble members did an excellent job, including Roger Ricker, Michael Wessells, Patrick Ludt and Megan Rucidlo.

Director Jesse Cline keeps the show moving and does an excellent job of keeping the large cast well-coordinated on stage. To do this, he must employ the talents of an experienced stage manager, and Tim Haney, with Assistant Stage Manager Alexander Reinhard, fits the bill. Music Director Tom Fosnocht used a small pit orchestra for all of the music in the show, and the musicians didn’t miss a beat.

As choreographer, Dann Dunn does a terrific job of creating visually pleasing pictures and lively action. Lighting designer Troy A. Martin-O’Shia’s work is especially effective during poignant moments in the show. Technical director Todd Craft, who designed the set, uses movable screens and set pieces to quickly change the scenes. Projected images and videos are used as backdrops for the scenes and as segues between them. Leading the production effort was Robert Towarnicki, with Patty Verzella handling property design.

Two special things to note: Evening performances begin at 7 p.m., perfect for children and early-risers, and the Philadelphia Zoo will have its “Zoo on Wheels” on hand before the 2 p.m. Saturday matinees for the December dates only, Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 22.

For more information and for ticket sales, visit www.mediatheatre.org or call the box office at 610-891-0100.

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