I had the pleasure of attending the closing performance of Disney's 101 Dalmations Kids at the Haddam-Killingworth Middle School. (Click to read my preview.) The proud parents of my niece Juliette Sasso got me a ticket and lots of members of my family attended as well. Of course, the family members of the other nearly eighty cast members packed the auditorium along with us. This cast was huge and this was made very apparent when what looked like 101 Dalmation pups entered from the back and lined the long walls of the auditorium, while more cast members filled the stage. Director Christopher Solimene spoke highly of the fifth and sixth graders that learned so much during the rehearsal process. He worked with chunks of kids at a time during the rehearsal process and had adult, seventh and eighth grade, and high school student helpers when they finally all came together, but clearly this gentleman's job included a lot of wrangling of students. When the full company sang together, two row of actors filled the width of the stage and they sounded wonderful.
The musical numbers in this fun (shortened version) of the classic Disney story were written by a six person committee and are charming. The first act included "Kanine Krunchies" and the familiar "Cruella De Vil," and after intermission (or as one of my nephews called it "halftime,") "Somewhere Out There" from American Tail was performed. All the voices in the cast were great and the excellent sound system helped them to all be heard.
The very creative costumes, coordinated by Susan Lane and made by a large committee of volunteers, were quite adorable. Since the vast majority were canine in nature, the costumers avoided a one-note look by putting the Scotties in tartan plaid, the poodles in tulle, and the Chihuahuas in serapes. The featured dogs that served as narrators in a kind of Greek chorus rocked their costumes as well. However, the Dalmatians are the stars, so there was a lot a black spots on white, and it took three ladies (in addition to the costume team) to cover all the needed hair, makeup and face painting. They did an amazing job. The backdrop of London by scenic artist April Chateauneuf was beautiful and the lighting designed by the director added to the clever staging. The homage to the flag in Le Miz was a nice touch.
Musical Director Joel Spineti played the piano to the hilt and was accompanied by an upright bass player. It was just enough to keep the kids in tune.
Kaden Powers was a fine Pongo to Abigail Smith's Perdita. Devin Coon as Roger had a great singing voice and Kerri Peoples had fine stage presence as Anita. Jasmine Griswold was a great Nanny to the pups, while James Knowlton was strong as Sergeant Tibbs. Lizzy McManus played a lovely TV announcer and AJ Carlson served as a police officer.
Two young men almost stole the show as Cruella's henchmen Horace and Jasper. Garrison Laudano and Dylan Craig nailed the English cockney accents and bumbling nature of the two characters and played perfectly off of the lady with the two-tone hair. And Cruella? Well, clearly I am biased, but sixth grader Juliette Sasso was absolutely amazing as the wicked lady who loves her furs. From her painted half black/half white hair to her red pumps, she was pure evil with a great singing voice. I am so proud to say I knew her before she was a star.
Congratulations to everyone involved with this wonderfully large production. The amount of work that went into producing it was very apparent. This middle school should be very proud of their strong theatre program.