101 Dalmatians: Children's Theatre of Charlotte and Imagination Stage

By Tran, Diep | American Theatre, January 2015 | Go to article overview

101 Dalmatians: Children's Theatre of Charlotte and Imagination Stage


Tran, Diep, American Theatre


The challenge: Mount 101 Dalmations, the musical, using just nine actors. For this coproduction between Childrens Theatre of Charlotte and Imagination Stage, bunraku puppetry and over-the-top hair anchored the story of Dalmatian dogs Pongo and Missus, as they set out to save their puppies from the villainess (and fur lover) Cruella de Vil.

Janet Stanford, DIRECTION: The dogs in 101 Dalmatians actually narrate the story, and they call the humans their pets. So, in a way, we wanted the human beings to be simplified and made almost alien, so as to be not nearly as human or appealing as the dogs. I really wanted the human characters to be eight-foot puppets, so the actors playing the dogs could stand up and be anthropomorphized without being the same height as the humans.

Puppet designer Matthew Pauley came up with the concept of how this would work. He decided most of the human beings would have two working arms, so that the actors' own hands could serve as the hands of the puppets. The only puppet that opened its mouth was Cruella, because she is a loudmouth who sings a couple of very big, frightening numbers. So the actress [Sarah Beth Pfiefer] had one arm that she could move with her right hand while her left hand is inside the puppet operating the mouth--the other arm is kind of like a dummy arm.

Many people play puppets as well as dogs, so you could cover up your dog costume inside your puppet. For example, Cruella doubles as the Nanny, and you only see the actress's face briefly when she plays Clover the Cow. So the actors are back there madly jumping in and out of puppets. The subtitle of the show is "101 Costume Changes!"

Connie Furr Soloman, COSTUME DESIGN: Janet sent me a cartoon showing two dogs walking humans, and she said, "This is our show." So that image informed the show from that moment onward. …

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