Because Birthday Candles features a live fish onstage, the Archives are taking a look back at past productions that also included live animals. In the 2019-2020 Season, the fantastic new musical Darling Grenadine included a star turn by Sammy the Dog. The story featured a role for Paul, the main character’s faithful dog, who was represented on stage simply by a red leash and a ball. Wonderfully, when Harry meets a new dog in the final scene, that dog was a flesh and blood animal, bounding across the stage to heal Harry’s heart. Given Roundabout’s long history, one would think that we are old hats when it comes to working with animals on stage. The truth is that live animals are a challenge to work with and therefore not commonly written into scripts. As a result, our archives aren’t abundant with examples of dogs, fish, etc. starring in past shows, but in addition to Sammy, there are a few examples from which to draw.
Our 1987 production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (at the Union Square Theatre) included a role for “Dog.” Unfortunately, our archived production photographs and stage records don’t lend much insight into the life and times of Sundae, the dog that was cast in the role. Sundae is listed in the cast list and, we can only imagine, was stellar in the role.
After Miss Julie, staged at the American Airlines Theatre℠ in 2009, starred Sienna Miller, Johnny Lee Miller, and Marin Ireland in Patrick Marber’s retelling of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie. The script called for a songbird that Miss Julie keeps as a pet in a cage. A real bird was used in the production, but a prop bird had to be fabricated for the scene in which Julie instructs John to kill the bird so that the two lovers can leave unencumbered. For the animal lovers out there, the real bird was adopted by a crew member after the show closed, but the prop bird (several examples are included in our archives) was deposited into the production collection and stands as a not-so-subtle reminder of the violent undertones present in the play.
More times than not, a fake dog or animal is used rather than working with a trained dog, or a fake animal is used to enhance comedy. One of the funniest examples from our archives is found in the 2010 Kneehigh Theatre production of Brief Encounter (at Studio 54). Dorothy Atkinson (Beryl) and Annette McLaughlin (Myrtle) are wonderful in a scene where the two walk their dogs. The floppy “dogs” (nothing more than fur on a rope) were priceless.
There are many examples of shows that include stuffed animals. These include the unicorn and teddy bear “boyfriends” from 2018’s Usual Girls (Roundabout Underground, used in scenes with Abby Corrigan and Midori Francis) and a photograph depicting the stage in our 1980 production of Look Back in Anger (starring Malcolm McDowell and Lisa Banes, at the 23rd Street Theatre), which features the animals in the “squirrel bear” game.