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SLAC's 'Go Dog' especially for kids

Jay Perry, left, Nathan Shaw, Shannon Musgrave, Deena Marie Manzanares and Dustin Bolt star in "Go, Dog. Go."
Jay Perry, left, Nathan Shaw, Shannon Musgrave, Deena Marie Manzanares and Dustin Bolt star in "Go, Dog. Go."
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

When Salt Lake Acting Company issues an audience recommendation, it typically includes something about mature content.

But for their upcoming production, nothing could be more doggone wrong.

"Go, dog. Go!" opens this week as the first-ever children's show offered by the professional theater company in its 40-year history.

The story has been adapted for the stage by Allison Gregory and Steven Dietz, from the beloved children's book by P.D. Eastman.

"Truthfully, it really is like a living pop-up book, and that's what we're focused on creating," said director Jerry Rapier. "We're being as faithful to the intention of the book as possible."

When the book was first published in the early '60s, Eastman was lauded for writing a work that appealed to both kids and their parents — undoubtedly reading it for the umpteenth time.

"The book really is about learning, and it's about how to learn," Rapier said. "There is a lot of repetition to help kids with basic building blocks."

With big dogs, little dogs, dogs in hats, dogs in cars, "it's everything from identifying color to learning simple things like in and out, up and down, and over and under."

But beyond learning colors and sizes, "Go, Dog. Go!" is teaching another lesson, Rapier said.

"It's also an introduction to theater. That was very much part of what Dietz's intention was — to introduce young people to theater."

Which must be working like a charm. The play debuted in Seattle in 2002 and has since been performed around the country, and it' easy to see why.

"The last six or seven rehearsals we've had people bring their kids in just to gauge what they respond to," Rapier said. "The kids are so excited. The boys always love the cars and the girls always love Hattie," he said of the dog who wears the fancy hats.

Excited kids usually come with excitable noises, but Rapier insists this time it's OK.

"We want them to really feel involved," he said, "they're just really into it. The little boys makes car noises. There are moments of repeated dance movements and the kids start doing it with the actors. This is one of those times that it's perfectly acceptable."

With music written by Michael Koerner, "it's essentially 50 minutes of nonstop music, movement and color."

But that's not to say that the theater, Rapier or the cast is taking it lightly.

"I've heard from a lot of my friends who have children … most children's theater is approached with less care and less finesse," he said. "That comes across as condescending. Our goal is to speak to the children, not at them"

"They're actually the most difficult to entertain," he said. "If they're with you, they're with you. But if you're not entertaining them, they move on to something else. They are, in many ways, the hardest audience to please, but also the most rewarding."

The cast and theater are equally excited about the project.

"It's a new and exciting energy at SLAC. Everyone is so excited about the show and the joy that comes from a bunch of children is pretty remarkable," he said.

To make sure your kids are getting the most out of their time at the theater, SLAC is also offering a study guide (www.saltlakeactingcompany.org) for parents or teachers to use covering everything from how to behave as an audience member to asking what kind of car they would drive if they were a dog or what color they would be to having them figure out if they look like their own mutt.

And if you get tickets for a Saturday matinee, the Intermountain Therapy Animals will be in the SLAC lobby showing their therapy dogs.

"The whole thing is child friendly," Rapier said. "And there is nothing like a whole group of kids laughing in unison."

If you go…

What: "Go, Dog. Go!"

Where: Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North

When: Dec. 1 - 27, times vary

How much: $10-$25

Phone: 801-363-7522

Web: www.saltlakeactingcompany.org

e-mail: ehansen@desnews.com