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Salt Lake Acting Company to bring children’s book to life in ‘Art Dog’

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SALT LAKE CITY — By day, Arthur Dog is a security guard at the Dogopolis Museum of Art, home to such renowned artworks as the "Mona Woofa."

At night, he transforms into Art Dog, who paints the walls of the city to beautify the town and bring art to others.

But when the "Mona Woofa" is stolen and the police discover Art Dog painting on the streets, it's up to him to set the record straight, catch the thief and recover the stolen painting.

Written by John Olive and with music by Susan Ennis, the children's musical "Art Dog," which runs Dec. 4-23 at Salt Lake Acting Company, is based on Thacher Hurd's children's book by the same name.

"Salt Lake Acting Company is always looking for new works for young people," said Penelope Caywood, who is directing her sixth children's show for SLAC. "This show premiered last year at Seattle Children's Theater, so it's a brand-new piece, and it hasn't been done in very many places."

Caywood said the show teaches children lessons about gaining confidence and coming into one's own.

"(Art Dog) comes to become more confident in himself," she said. "He starts off pretty quiet, but then he really does save the day … and the way he does it isn't by fighting; it's by wielding his magical art brushes."

The show's running time is about 50 minutes, Caywood said. The four-person cast includes Alexis Baigue as Arthur/Art Dog, Jenessa Bowen as Thief 2/Chief of Police, Olivia Custodio as Museum Director/Cat/Moon and Jaten Lee McGriff as Thief 1/Cop.

"Playing the thief is fun because you get to be a good naughty person," McGriff said. "In a children's show, you're not going to do anything really too bad, so you get to be a little dirty in a very clean world."

McGriff said every aspect of "Art Dog" has been designed specifically for children.

"Everything we do onstage and everything that we emulate through the book is meant to make children's eyes light up and their imagination go crazy," he said. "All the costumes are very bright, the set is amazingly colorful, there's a lot of action in the book … and all these things we've brought into the piece to create a really loud, bright and enthralling piece."

"Art Dog" is part of SLAC's Title 1 Matinee Arts Education Program, which provides free live theater experiences to more than 1,700 underprivileged schoolchildren in the community, according to a press release. Caywood said SLAC provides teachers with study guides to familiarize their students with the story as well as the artworks represented in the show.

"For many of them, it'll be their first time seeing a live show that's not a movie, and the discipline that it takes to sit in your seat and participate is very different," Caywood said. "Those performances are quite joyful, and they're raucous because the kids get so involved. It's a very small space, and so it's very intimate, and so the actors are getting very good feedback. If they ask a question, if they look out, the kids are going to respond."

Caywood said live theater experiences can teach children the importance of community and stories and how they're shared.

"The other thing, too, is the empathy that you can get when you see a live actor onstage going through something, that you can kind of put yourself in their position, which is a little more immediate than just watching it on a film or watching it on TV," Caywood said.

McGriff said the show also carries a strong message about the value of art.

"Art Dog truly loves the 'Mona Woofa' and will do anything to make sure that that piece of art survives, and the thieves only want the art for money," McGriff said. "I think kids will feel an appreciation for paintings that they wouldn't have felt before."

If you go ...

What: "Art Dog"

When: Dec. 4-23, times vary

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

How much: $15 for children, $25 for adults; discounts available for groups of 10 or more

Phone: 801-363-7522

Web: saltlakeactingcompany.org

Email: rbrutsch@deseretnews.com