If family theatre ratings, like Olympic diving, included a degree of difficulty factor, the Kennedy Center premiere of The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful and her Dog! would earn a very high score. It’s not easy to tackle the scientific method and solar fusion in a musical for children ages six and up. Yet, thanks to enthusiastic acting, uplifting music, and a skillful production The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful and her Dog! ultimately works.
Dr. Wonderful (Jessica Frances Dukes) is a young girl who dreams of becoming a famous scientist who explores mysteries and experiences adventures. Dr. Wonderful eager applies for courses and experiences that are beyond her years (e.g., “Introduction to Astrophysics”). She sings not one but two different songs about her love for science (“Without Science and “The Thing I Love the Most”) to her snack-loving dog Newton (Jason Lott).
Fortunately, her dream of scientific adventure is realized when a mysterious client in a trench coat (her Mom, played by Gia Mora) shows up. She explains that a superstar is going to disappear and Dr. Wonderful needs to solve the mystery by 5 p.m.
Despite the enthusiastic efforts of the cast, the opening scenes drag a bit. Even with energetic acting, the early sequences come across as too didactic, more like those of an educational TV skit (anyone remember “The Electric Company”?).
Fortunately, the story picks up with the arrival of her friend Ben (Nickolas Vaughan), and it really takes off (no pun intended) when the trio leaves for an investigatory trip though the solar system. That’s when the Misha Kachman’s colorful stage and Brian J. Lilienthal’s bright lighting truly shine.
This show has many commendable qualities. The music is upbeat and catchy, and at times the audience is urged both to sing along and “think – Think – THINK”, to use one of the catchier lyrics. The chorus of a song about “Fusion” is surprisingly effective at involving the audience. The effectiveness of the show’s humor increases later in the production and the energetic cast members sell the story effectively.
One of the joy’s of family theatre in this area is the quality of actors that it attracts, as demonstrated in this show by the multi-talented Gia Mora. She plays multiple roles effectively, especially during the space travel sequences, and her singing and dancing help make the show’s best number, “Rockin’ the Science,” about the value of science in everyday life, really soar. And Jason Lott is a standout as the extroverted mutt.
Family theatre may be made more easily from simple stories or even historical events. Yet while the Kennedy Center may have presented some children’s show that are a little more consistently entertaining than The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful and her Dog! , there’s much to be said for a musical that makes science cool and learning fun. In that respect, both the parents and the children will leave the theatre happy.
The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful and her Dog!
Book and Lyrics by Lauren Gunderson
Music by Brian Lowdermilk
Directed by Sean Daniels
Presented by The Kennedy Center
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Running time: 1 hour (no intermission)