Ever wonder how your favorite cartoon characters would fare outside their television world? Landless Theatre Company successfully answers that question by giving a certain gang of mystery-solving youths and their hungry pooch a dose of reality in their enjoyable production of Spooky Dog and the Teen-Age Gang Mysteries. It’s a musical comedy send-up of the beloved cartoon Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, translating each essential detail of the TV show to the theater with pleasing results.
As a lifelong lover of both cartoons and slapstick, I had a wonderful time. Right from the opening number, the show plastered a big, silly grin across my face that didn’t leave until the curtain call, and my sides were still aching from laughter well after I left the theater. But don’t be fooled by the show’s premise. Although inspired by a children’s TV show, the frequent sexual innuendos, raunchy jokes, and drug references quickly make it clear that this is a show directed more at mature teens (say, 16+)and adults rather than the kiddie set.
Spooky Dog follows the intrepid gang, composed of blond leader Ted, ditzy beauty Tiffany, brainy sleuth Thelma, scruffy slacker Scraggly, and their talking pooch Spooky Dog, as they search for a celebrity gone missing at a creepy county fair. Along the way they encounter colorful locals and are beset by a menacing phantom, who tries to frighten them off the case. Speeding along on a constant patter of jokes, music, and scares, the gang sleuths its way toward the identity of the kidnapper and the predictable solution to the mystery.
The funniest moments occur when the characters step out of their cartoon personas and “get real”. Ted is constantly frustrated by his inability to express his long-hidden feelings for the delightfully oblivious Tiffany, while Thelma is too closeted to fully voice her own affection for the same redheaded beauty. The two compete for her love throughout the show, pulling her back and forth around the stage like a rag doll and eliciting big laughs. The ravenous duo of Scraggly and Spooky Dog also build hilarious tongue in cheek moments as they battle bouts of drug-induced “munchies”, totally oblivious to the phantom lurking nearby.
Two short musical numbers add welcome variety to the show’s formulaic plot. The opening number is a Rocky Horror style parody of the cartoon’s theme song, in which the characters assure the audience they’re not guilty of copyright infringement because of the nearly imperceptible name changes from the cartoon (“Thelma” for “Velma”, “Scraggly” for “Shaggy”, etc.). Later, Ted vents to the group in “Love Sucks (But It’s Cool)”, a comic discussion of love’s merits and disadvantages. The actors all sing fairly well, gamely handling solos and constructing pleasing group harmonies. The dancing could use some work, as it comes off as a little sloppy and lacking in energy, but it is only a minor issue that doesn’t do much to dent the entertainment value of the songs.
Director Andrew Lloyd Baughman deserves praise for wringing such a fun, high-energy show out of the small cast and tiny performance space. He wisely focuses the audience’s attention on the slapstick and comic business between actors, rather than allowing the action to be sidetracked by superfluous props, costumes, or set pieces. He has clearly invested a lot of time polishing the gang’s group dynamic, bringing the central characters to a level of mutual comfort which allows them to maintain a snappy, entertaining rhythm of jokes and dialogue.
The best part of the show is Amy Baughman, who, as Thelma, frequently steals the spotlight with her spot-on comic timing and impressive improv skills, at one point launching an unexpected volley of raunchy jokes had the audience rolling in the aisles. Matt Baughman and Jen Speerstra also stand out in their roles as Ted and Tiffany, bringing the laughs through their spot-on portrayals of two cartoon characters grappling for the first time with, respectively, the difficulties of wooing the object of one’s affection and thinking before you speak.
With its reasonable ticket price and runtime of less than an hour, Spooky Dog and the Teen-Age Gang Mysteries won’t break the bank or eat up your entire night. It’s a nostalgic, campy ride and a great way to start a summer evening.
Spooky Dog and the Teen-Age Gang Mysteries
by Eric Pliner and Amy Rhodes
directed by Andrew Lloyd Baughman
produced by Landless Theatre Company
reviewed by Ben Demers
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.
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