The Kennedy Center presents The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful and Her Dog!, a musical about a young girl named Dr. Wonderful who uses her love of science to solve a mystery, with the help of her sidekick and dog, Newton. The Book and Lyrics are by Lauren Gunderson, with the score composed by Brian Lowdermilk. The production is directed by Sean Daniels.
A bright, colorful set, designed by Misha Kachman, shows the perfect blend of a youthful bedroom and a makeshift laboratory. Finger paintings of famous scientists cover the walls, as well as a giant telescope, a scattering of toys, and a whiteboard that has equations scribbled on it, as well as playful doodles of hearts and a smiling sun. Costume designer Kathleen Geldard dresses the characters in suitable casual wear, with the exception of lab coats, and Newton is given a dog-like appearance with corduroy overalls, a handkerchief around his neck…and a tail.
The play begins with a discouraged Dr. Wonderful,(Jessica Frances Dukes), who is denied membership to high-school science clubs (and college science courses!), d wishes to prove herself worthy of admission. Determined to show that she is a true scientist, she wonders what her next project will be while her dog, Newton (Jason Lott), would prefer to eat candy and play video games. Her enthusiasm spills over into an energetic song called “Without Science,” where she sings about how exciting science really is, stating that, “without science, life would be really boring!” Convincing Newton that everything he loves (including his butterscotch candy and XBOX) was made possible by science, he becomes interested and ends the song by chiming in with her. She then teaches Newton a few things about science, and the sense of perspective and its effect on how we see things.
Sensing that her daughter could use an adventure, Dr. Wonderful’s mom, played by Gia Mora, disguises herself as a detective and assigns them a mystery, with some helpful clues. Her classmate (and crush!) Ben (Nickolas Vaughan) visits and helps look over their packet of clues. These clues lead to the conclusion that a major element in our solar system is in jeopardy, and Dr. Wonderful, Ben, and her dog will have to venture into space to try and save the day!
Lighting Designer Brian J. Lilienthal makes the stage flash with different colors for every stop, such as red for Mars. Images of the planets are also projected onto Dr. Wonderful’s whiteboard, and Sound Designer Veronika Vorel lends unique melodies for each location. At every stop, we learn a little about each planet, as well as things like solar fusion and atoms. A particularly fun moment is when pillowy ‘asteroids’ pummel their ship as they pass through an asteroid belt. Neptune is referred to as the last planet, but they take a moment to acknowledge Pluto, a tiny ball that shoots across the sky and cutely squeaks, ‘be my friend!’ Now that they’ve searched the solar system, have they gathered enough clues and information to solve their mystery?
The children respond well to the exaggerated movements of the actors, especially those of Jason Lott, who successfully hones the sprightly and agile behavior of a dog. The actors are full of energy and enthusiasm, and explain different aspects of science in a way that is easy to understand through song and dance. Upon leaving the theatre, many parents could be heard asking their children what they’ve learned, and the answers that are given come right out of a classroom with the excited voices of entertained children.
The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful and Her Dog! plays through October 29th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets call (800) 444-1324, or order them online.
Running time: 60 minutes with no intermission
Dr. Wonderful composer Brian Lowdermilk talks about and sings samples from the score.