Dogs from shelters win roles in musical
'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' auditions result in casting for two rescued puppies.
By SAM DOLNICK
NEW YORK -- Meet Broadway's newest stars: They're young, they're hairy and they have very curious noses.
And like the biggest of celebrities, they each go by only one name -- Argyle and Fred.
They may be dogs, but they're headed for the big time.
In a rags-to-riches story worthy of a Broadway musical, the two formerly homeless dogs were selected Friday to join the cast of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," a song-and-dance extravaganza opening April 28 at the Hilton Theatre.
"This is the ultimate dream for a rescue dog -- to go from somebody's trash to a Broadway star," said Deborah Miller, who saved Argyle, a 10-month old collie, from a life spent locked in a Bronx basement.
Fred, an 8-month-old foxhound mix, was brought to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals after his owner gave him up.
Producers invited dogs from animal shelters across the city to an open casting call at the Hilton Hotel. Twenty dogs tried out for three spots. All the dogs are waiting to be adopted, and many of them are recovering from neglect, abuse or abandonment. They each had a story to tell.
There was Winks, who had one eye sewn shut because of a birth defect and was given up by her owner. There was Samson, who was hit by a car and broke two of his legs. And there was Ida, a terrier mix found wandering the streets in Brooklyn.
"She's so ugly, she's cute," said Joanne Callahan as she cooed over Ida.
Bill Berloni, who has trained dogs for more than a dozen Broadway shows and discovered the original Sandy for "Annie," auditioned the would-be canine stars. He had already cast five dogs for the show, all found in shelters, and he was looking for three more to round out the pack.
Berloni, who doubles as director of animal behavior and training for the Humane Society of New York, said it was more important to find dogs with a good temperament than dogs who could win a beauty contest.
"If they can come up and meet me and be comfortable, chances are they'll be comfortable on a Broadway stage," he said.
The dogs will live with Berloni in Connecticut and move with him to an apartment in Brooklyn in March.
Friday's auditions consisted of Berloni rolling around the floor with the dog, asking each canine to jump up on him, and interacting with Kenneth Kantor, the actor who will be swarmed by the dogs in their big scene. The final, and most important test consisted of a rigorous sniffing session with the five dogs already cast, which range in size from Barney, a mini-poodle, to Harriet, a pit bull and Labrador mix.
But only Argyle and Fred passed all the tests, so heads up canines: They're still looking for a final dog!
"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," about an amazing flying car and its quirky inventor, begins preview performances March 27 at the Hilton. The musical, based on the 1968 film starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes, has been a big hit in London, where it has been running for nearly three years.
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