by Erin Thursby
When Legally Blonde made the transition from movie to traveling musical, there was one thing that had to remain the same: including Elle’s tiny chihuahua, Bruiser.
The stage pups were trained by William Berloni, who trained the first Sandy in the musical Annie. All of the dogs he trains are rescues. It takes about six months before they’re audience-ready. (It’s proof that old dogs can learn new tricks, as none of dogs were puppies when they were rescued). Three dogs are trained to do the show and are on a rotation schedule.
It’s the job of handler Patrick Peavy to keep the dogs happy and healthy on the road. “They won’t do the show if they’re not happy,” remarks Peavy. He ensures that their diet stays constant, that they get exercise and he keeps them company. Although they come already trained by Berloni, Peavy is responsible for maintaining their training.
The typical day for Peavy and his pack starts with a long ride on the crew bus. They get off the bus at the theater, which the dogs are allowed to explore before going to their hotel for the day where they watch TV and play. Then Peavy and the dogs take a taxi to the theater for show time.
“Everybody comes to love the dogs,” says Peavy. That’s why the actress who was last year’s Elle, begged to bring her Bruiser home for the holidays. The three dogs trained for the role are Chico, Frankie and Roxie.
Before each show, the dogs are given time to bond with cast members and are given treats for executing the behaviors. Peavy believes the dogs don’t perform exclusively for the treats, but because of the bond the actors form with them.
The dogs are cued by the actors on stage rather than by using off-stage cues. Explains Peavy: “The actors are basically trained as animal trainers. In the very beginning, since rehearsal, we start working with them. Elle, the actress playing Elle, has sleepovers with the dogs for the bonding. That’s so the dogs come to love and trust the girls as much as they do us.”
Don’t look for these dogs to make mistakes. They’re old pros at this. Chico did Broadway for two years; Frankie did the first national tour for two years and Roxie’s been an understudy for the same amount of time. “They know that the audience is there,” says Peavy. “Sometimes it even looks like they’re hamming it up. I think because they feel safe… the noise doesn’t really bother them.”
In other shows different dogs are used because each is good at a certain behavior, but when you watch Legally Blonde the Musical you’ll see the same dog throughout the show. All three dogs are trained for the whole show.
Even though the dogs are in a different city every week, they seem to value their routine and the people around them. “We’re their constants,” Peavy says. “Home is where the people are. And home is where the stage is. They set the same stuff up every night, ask them to do the same thing every night.”
You can watch Bruiser strut his stuff at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts at the Moran Theater from January 11- 16. Call the Artist Series box office at 632-3373 or (888) 860-BWAY for tickets, or go to www.artistseriesjax.org for online seat selection. Tickets range in price from about $27- 70.
small dog big show
by Erin Thursby