[Editor's note: As we don't have room to post pictures of every dog mentioned here in this entry, you can click the names of each pet to see a photo of the lucky pooches!]
Unlike Annie, with its mixed-breed mascot, Sandy, or City Center's upcoming production of The Wiz, with a brindle-hair Cairn terrier named Nigel about to assume the spotlight as Toto, South Pacific has no dog onstage. But that doesn't mean that the cast members themselves don't share their lives with canines, even if rules governing backstage life prohibit them from hanging out in their owners' dressing rooms.
I got to thinking about the actor/dog bond one day this past weekend, when I bumped into Andrew Samonsky (Cable) near the stage door. He told me he'd just acquired a Boston terrier named Louie, in homage to Lou Gehrig. (In spite of his southern California origins, Samonsky's a Yankees fan). Samonsky's excited about the latest addition to his household. There's only one slight drawback: the actor's just moved from an apartment within long-walk distance from the theater to one in upper Manhattan. "I can't run home to walk him between shows as easily as I'd like," he said.
I'd have more sympathy for Samonsky's plight had I not, after sounding a dog whistle alerting the cast to my desire for animal stories, received this reply from Loretta Ables Sayre, who is Bloody Mary. She said that she and her husband, David, who normally live in Honolulu, have an 8-year-old golden retriever named Makamaka. "Being away from Hawaii," Ables Sayre said, "I can't walk him at all. We hire a pet nanny who takes care of him when my husband David is here with me." She added: "Makamaka means 'friend/buddy' in Hawaiian and that is what he is... One of the hardest things about being in New York is being away from Maka. Since David and I don't have any children, Maka is our child and we love him like was was our child."
I asked Loretta and other actors a question for which I apologize in advance to non-dog lovers -- something that might make them want to, as Dorothy Parker once said of Pooh Bear in a book review, "fwow up." I asked them: if your dog were a character in South Pacific, which one would it be? Ables Sayre replied: "Stewpot." Because Maka is "close-by, lovable, loyal, mischievous, and waiting for a pat on the head."
Li Jun Li, who plays Liat, lives in Fresh Meadows, Queens, and has a 9-year-old Maltese, SuKi, and a 2-year-old Yorkshire terrier, ToTo. (I approve of that cap letter on that second "T"; lower-case would imply a Cairn.) As for the dog-walking issue on show days, Li replied: It's "very difficult. I live very far, so my schedule revolves around planning the least amount of hours they can be left alone in the house." And who would they play in the canine South Pacific? "SuKi would probably be Bloody Mary," Li answered. "Because he screams a lot like she does in the show. He has a severe barking problem. ToTo would probably be Billis. Honest, charming, unconditional, sincere, and downright lovable."
Peter Lockyer, who plays Bob McCaffrey, is luckier in terms of proximity to the Beaumont. "I live close enough to the theater to be able to get home in-between shows to walk and feed 'the boy' and myself. Also, if I have something going on my wife shares the walking duties." The boy-in-question is a Chinese-Crested powder puff named Munches. "Munches has visited the theater to say hello," Lockyer says, but in accordance with the rules "he waited at the stage door." In the South Pacific animal road show, Lockyer says that Munches would have to play one of the Asians - "because he's a Chinese Crested!"
Nick Mayo, who plays Richard West, also lives close enough to the Beaumont to get in a lot of dog-playing time. He says that his dog, Archie, "is a two-and-a-half-year-old pit bull. He loves the dog park and his dog park friends. He is a rescue dog who loves EVERYBODY!" Among the South Pacific cast, Mayo's dog gets the most attention. "We do 4 walks a day. One really long walk in the morning with coffee and play in our dog park with all our friends. We are there for about 2 hours. Then two small walks before work and two short walks after work. On two-show days he spends a lot of time with our dog park friends, and then I walk him between shows." Mayo says that Archie is a real Bloody-Mary type -- "strong, scary-looking, and loved by everyone."
The biggest troupe of stage-door dogs, and the ones I've seen most often before and after showtime, are those belonging to Laurissa Romain (Ngana) and her mother, Laurie Sheppard. They have Mina, a Morkie; Rocky, a long-haired Chihuahua; Ngana, a Boston terrier; and Cutie, a Shih Tzu. Romain says that her mom generally walks the dogs: that's a "good thing," since South Pacific is "a three-hour show." Romain added that the dogs "love the cast, who are always so friendly since so many have dogs themselves." With such a large bunch, Laurie and Laurissa could tour a mini-South Pacific on their own. And the casting? "Cutie the Shih-Tzu would be Billis, Mina the Morkie would be Nellie, Rocky the Chihuahua would be Jerome." And Ngana? Duh!
As a final note to this round-up of canine lovers in the cast, let me point out that, as far as I have been able to ascertain, the champion dog owner in the cast is Paulo Szot (Emile). Back home in Brazil, Szot has five Weimaraners. Some day I hope to have a picture of them.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com.