Puddleby-on-the-Marsh is in an uproar! Dr. Doolittle stands accused of murdering a woman.
Already his defense smells decidedly fishy as he must convince the judge, General Bellowes (the hilariously apoplectic Doug Friedlander) that the woman was not a woman at all, but a seal (Coree Kotula) disguised as a woman, who wanted to escape the circus and reunite with her husband at the North Pole. Not only that, he must also convince the court that the reason he knew the seal wanted this is because he can talk to animals.
In Act One of “Dr. Doolittle,” now playing through Oct. 4 at Ojai ACT, the good doctor recounts to the court through a series of flashbacks how he came by his remarkable powers with the help of his 200-year-old parrot, Polynesia (Sophie Massey shares the role in alternating performances with Sofia Burke). Along the way we meet, amongst others, an arthritic cow, a myopic horse, a fox called Sheila, and Pushmi-Pullyu, a most peculiar two-headed llama.
Dr. Doolittle hires out Pushmi-Pullyu (Amber Hodge and Clara Gregory) to the circus to make some money to fund an expedition to locate the Great Pink Sea-Snail. Louis Graham, as the booming circus owner, Albert Blossom, upon seeing Pushmi-Pullyu, performs a resounding rendition of “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It!” with Christine Colombo as his wife, Gertie, that you will hum for the rest of the day. By the end of Act One the doctor, although cleared of murder, is sent to an insane asylum by the cackling judge.
In Act Two, with the help of Polynesia and his best friend Matthew Mugg (played with peppy Irish charm by Ezra Eels), the doctor escapes and leaves Puddlesby behind for the open sea, finally on his quest to find the Great Pink Sea Snail. Unbeknownst to him, Emma, realizing her feelings for the doctor, has stowed away with them. But their ship meets a terrible storm, and they are washed ashore the floating Sea Star Island. There they meet a host of islanders, their leader Straight Arrow (Nelson Fox sharing the role with Armando Hernandez). But how are they to get home?
Phil Nemy as the doctor has the voice to carry the demanding role and is every inch the eccentric English explorer. He is a man who “has never been much good with humans” but nevertheless attracts the affections of the independent, headstrong Emma (played in alternate performances by Brittany Danyel and Marisa Miculian). Arshan Barati and Mason Rothermel split the role of little Tommy, owner of an unfortunate duck, and Maya Mouderres plays Dub-Dub the pig, who puts the doctor off his sausages: “One should always try to avoid eating one’s friends.”
The able, hard-working ensemble comprises actors of all ages and includes Bodhi Bourbon, Siena Cherry, Amber Hodge, Lisa Gosselin, Alora Gregory, Clara Gregory, Addysyn Johnson, Ula Leavitt,Tabitha McComas, Aly Stelman, Marin Valerio, Paloma Valerio, Robert Weed, Steve Weed and Beth Wilson.
“Dr. Dolittle,” based on the beloved books by Hugh Lofting, with music and witty lyrics by Double Oscar and Grammy winner, Leslie Bricusse (whose credits include the Bond theme songs “Goldfinger” and “You Only Love Twice”), is a madcap tale of mistaken identity, love, and compassion.
In keeping with the Victorian spirit of enquiry, we see that there is nothing magical in Dr. Doolittle’s amassing of animal languages, just good old honest hard work and study, and help from the uncommonly clever Polynesia with whom he performs the famous number, “Talk To The Animals.” The real magic in the play is performed by love, both baffling and transforming, as fierce adversaries Doolittle and Emma find unexpected tenderness in their hearts for each other.
Sheryl Jo Bedal and her team have created lavish and inventive costumes for this colorful production and Musical Director Greg Spaulding keeps the whole thing anchored with a light, lively tone. This large multi-generational performance is a triumph of coordination and collaboration under the direction of Gai Jones.
“Dr. Doolittle” makes for a warm and winning family outing with memorable songs and wonderful performances. As a bonus, an hour before the Saturday matinées, staff from the Ventura County Humane Society will be on hand with animals available for adoption. So trot, hop, crawl or gallop to Ojai ACT while the show lasts!
It plays at Ojai ACT, 113 S. Montgomery St. through Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $18 general, $15 seniors (62+), students and Art Center members, and $10 youth 12 and under. For reservations, call 640-8797 or go to www.OjaiACT.org.