Theatre Reviews
Photo courtesy of Metro Theater Company.

Metro Theater Company celebrates its 50th Anniversary season by going back to its roots—the circus!  Performing under the Big Top in the Grand Center Arts District, Metro’s recently opened production of P.D. Eastman’s classic children’s book, “Go, Dog, Go!” is a festival of movement, music, color, and laughs.

Fans of the beloved book may wonder how a story with so few words could possibly be converted into an hour-long production. This adaptation by Steven Dietz and Allison Gregory seeks not to fill in the empty spaces with plot, but instead it celebrates the joy of simplicity by imagining each page of the book as it might be discovered (and re-discovered, and re-discovered) in a child’s mind. Under the exciting direction of Rosemary Newcott, who has directed this show a number of times before, these dogs climb trees, drive cars, and jump through hoops as they explore all the many wonderful forms that “play” can take, both big and small.

A multi-talented acting troupe comprised of familiar St. Louis faces brings these adventurous and lovable canines to life. See Hannah Geisz as Red Dog, Colin McLaughlin as Yellow Dog, Hailey Medrano as Green Dog, and Cameron Tyler as Blue Dog as they exhibit carefully timed collaborative movements to create memorable stage pictures and pull off charming tricks.

Actor Tyler White, a familiar face in Metro’s productions, is an exciting anchor in this show Hattie, the singing and ever-happy dog who just wants her friends to like one of her many eccentric hats. White also stuns as she showcases a newly mastered skill: spinning through the air on an aerial hoop.

This troupe is elevated by its ring-leader, MC Dog, played by St. Louis native Ryan Lawson-Maeske. From the first moment of the show, Lawson-Maeske takes control of the stage  and welcomes us to the world of these dogs, starting small by skating across the stage on wheelies, and building up to full acrobatic stunts. To be a leader onstage is not just to take command of the space, but also to provide ample support for the performers around you—a quality that he seems to come by naturally. This actor has proven to be a force on St. Louis stages in dramatic roles, but undeniably thrives in physical comedy.

While these performers do everything from riding scooters to singing dreamy harmonies while driving a boat, their performances are rooted in the very technical and expressive acting technique of Clowning. This style of acting requires actors to pay close attention the response of the audience (which will have a different personality from show to show) and to collaborate with each unique crowd on the timing of the storytelling. As this cast settles in through the run of the show, it will be fun to watch them further develop this skill and expand their capabilities.

Scenic designers Margery and Peter Spack, alongside costume designer Lou Bird, have perfectly lifted iconic illustrations out of the book. Add in festive colored lights designed by Jayson M. Lawshee, and audiences are transported from their seats and directly into Eastman’s whimsical pages. Props play a large role in the fun (and are even occasionally played with by the audience!), and artisan Laura Skroska has further developed this three-dimensional playground with everything from delicious and juggle-able sandwiches to a small ferris wheel for Tiny Dogs. One minor critique would be that the Small Dog puppets are not quite recognizable from far away, once moving spotlights are added to the mix— it would be nice if it was a little easier to understand their body language while the Big Dogs play with them.

Brilliant sound design by Musician Dog Syrhea Conaway, who has also created additional music for the show, serves as a roadmap for the action. While it would be easy enough to write undemanding music for children’s theatre—to say “simple and catchy is good enough for kids”—Conaway has taken advantage of even minor opportunities to craft unique tunes with complex harmonies that truly raise the bar. This is a recurring theme and core part of MTC’s identity— acknowledging that children are deserving of complexity and intellectual challenge— that hopefully continues to be pushed even further in future productions.

This interactive production is not a one-way street, but a joyous conversation between those on the stage and in the audience that is not without depth. What a wonderful way for adult artists to express to children that their joy, creativity, and imagination is an inspiration that does not need to fade as they grow older: it is a vital springboard for art as we know it.

Whether you are already a lover of the book, or haven’t yet had the chance to read it, this canine carnival is sure to charm. Metro Theater Company has once again offered the St. Louis community a chance for children to explore the endless wonder of play, and for adults to feel like a kid again. This whimsical dog party is not one to be fashionably late for—every moment is a delight.

Metro Theater Company's "Go, Dog, Go!" runs through April 16th at the Big Top in Grand Center. More information is available at the Metro web site.

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