“(This show) is about friendship, hope, death, dreams, growing up and (the importance of) stories,” McNeely said. “The idea that every story has value and is important is something that is really resonant right now. I feel like (over) the last few years, many of us have felt like our stories have been taken away from us. First, by a pandemic completely out of our control, and then by people who decided their story matters more and others should be forgotten. We just wanted to do a show about the power and value of all stories and that exciting and scary adventure of finding out what you want your story to be.”
“It’s not preachy or heady – just a fun, sophisticated, coming-of-age adventure,” echoed Drennen, TheatreLab executive director. “We appreciate a good love story but that’s not ‘Charlie and Doggy.’ It’s about friendship, perseverance and carving your own path.”
Nearly two years ago, Drennen and McNeely set out to create the show. Both describe the experience as fun and challenging, but Drennen, who staged an outstanding “Cabaret” in the PNC Arts Annex last fall and directs “Charlie and Doggy,” acknowledges the delicate balance between vision and execution.
“It is an epic show,” he said. “The biggest challenge has been translating some of our larger-than-life elements to a black box setting. We are at sea for the majority of it and encounter life-threatening storms, giant rocks and flying ships. So, the challenge has been scaling that to an intimate setting, but we’ve come up with some pretty creative tricks.”
As for the score, the duo was primarily influenced by such Tony-winning musicals as “Once” and “Hadestown” although folk music, particularly from the Irish and English traditions, is paramount.
“A lot of the world of the show borrows from those places,” McNeely said. “We also actively wanted to create a show that felt it could be done by anyone, anywhere. I don’t feel like that’s something that’s seen a lot in theater right now. We wanted to create a show that everyone could see themselves in. We wanted to make sure this musical felt like an open space for anyone to be a part of.”
“‘Charlie and Doggy’ definitely feels reminiscent of ‘The Odyssey’ but with a modern edge,” echoed Drennen. “Fans of ‘Hadestown’ will appreciate the aesthetic of the show but it (also) harkens back to the Golden Age of musical theatre with standalone songs that drive the plot and give our patrons the chance to escape the outside world for a few hours.”
In addition to McNeely who portrays Doggy, the cast features Ben Locke and Lily Meyers sharing the role of Charlie, William Boatwright as Neema, AJ Breslin as Spooky, Christopher Hahn as Mr. Curdy, Abby Hoggatt as Nahellania, Zach King as Mr. Sherry, Anna Masla as Sarah, Jenna Valyn as Mrs. Curdy, Brennan Paulin as Beth, Garrett Young as Alloycious, and Allie Haines, Brent Hoggatt and Lindsay Sherman as Storytellers.
Providing a haven for new work is among TheatreLab’s exciting initiatives moving forward. The troupe also notably plans an expansion of its youth programming and a musical theatre collaboration with the Rubi Girls this summer.
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
“Our hope is at least once a season we are able to produce a new work or a really unknown work,” said Mackensie King, TheatreLab artistic director. “In general, a lot of new plays and playwrights are produced in Dayton but producing a new musical is whole different beast. We want to be able to be a hub for people in the region who are writing great work to fully stage their work and see it come to life.”
“We are so excited to launch ‘Charlie and Doggy’ through TheatreLab and hope this is the first of many shows workshopped into production,” Drennen added. “We want to open doors for other musical theatre writers to bring their stories to Dayton and cultivate a space where those stories can be told. There is a lot of art in Dayton, and we want to give our patrons new, bold experiences every season.”
HOW TO GO
What: “Charlie and Doggy and the Song at the Edge of the World: An Original Seafaring Musical Adventure”
Where: PNC Arts Annex, 46 W. Second St., Dayton
When: Jan. 19-22; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: Call Ticket Center Stage at 937-228-3630 or visit daytonlive.org
FYI: Masks are required for patrons over the age of 6