Canine Co-Stars: Talented Dogs Steal Spotlight in Theater Production

This weekend's production of "Legally Blonde: The Musical" by Vermont's popular Lyric Theatre Company features two dogs in starring roles. Joey the Chihuahua and Enzo the French bulldog play "Bruiser" and "Rufus" in the show that runs through Sunday afternoon at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Burlington.

"He was born a star," remarked dog trainer Kathleen Leach, describing Joey.

The stage version of the Reese Witherspoon comedy about an unlikely student at Harvard Law School calls for Joey to bark on-command in a critical scene. In it, he "informs" the central character's sorority sisters of her whereabouts when they are looking for her.

Leach said positive reinforcement, in the form of dog food, has helped train the dogs to repeatedly perform certain behaviors the show's director wants to see. "I use treats, so when he does a behavior we like, we give him one," Leach added.

Actress Keely Agan plays a sorority sister in the show and shares a high-profile scene with Joey.

"Hopefully it's going to be as smooth as possible," she said of the musical's five-show run in Burlington.

Agan said she worried at first about working with an animal in a live theater setting, because animals can, of course, be unpredictable. But several months of rehearsals with Lyric, a more than 40-year-old mostly-volunteer community theater group, has built up her confidence in her canine co-star.

"He's been adorable; great to work with," Agan told New England Cable News, referring to Joey. "He's a natural."

That's not to say there haven't been hiccups. Joey has occasionally missed cues to bark when he is supposed to. Leach estimated he has successfully performed the trick about 80 percent of the time in rehearsals.

Enzo has taken to his stage performance well, Leach added, including riding a skateboard onto the set in one scene.

Joey's owner, Joyce Girard of Essex, Vermont, said she thinks Joey may have missed a few cues because of all the distractions and noise that come from being on a busy set. "Usually he ignores everybody but the person who has the treats; so hopefully that will still work," she told necn.

For more information on "Legally Blonde: The Musical," visit the website of the Lyric Theatre Company. Tickets are selling quickly, Lyric volunteers said, but some seats were still available for the run as of opening night.

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