An opening number in Gayla D. Morgan and Eric H. Weinberger's A Dog Story, playing at the Loft at the Davenport Theatre, has a cynical ring to it. In the song "Get a Dog," one friend advises another to purchase a pooch for the sole purpose of making women fall for him. But it ends up being one of several catchy tunes in this predictable yet charming new musical comedy about finding love in unexpected places.
Nebbishy Roland is a woman-shy lawyer who's constantly passed over for a promotion because, he believes, his company favors married employees. His overgrown-frat-boy buddy, Guy, tells him he should get a dog: "Women swoon when they see puppies," he says. So Roland gets an adorbs little dog named Cupid to lure gorgeous hedge-fund manager Blair. At the same time he hires Miranda, a no-nonsense dog trainer, to curb Cupid's habit of nipping at strangers. Both women make big impressions on Roland, but when Cupid goes missing, Roland finds himself chasing after someone he didn't know he needed.
As corny as the plot sounds, A Dog Story delivers a diverting 95 minutes of simple melodies and mostly successful comic performances by its four actors. Besides the doggedly repetitive refrain in "Get a Dog" (sung by Brian Ray Norris as Guy), Lindsie VanWinkle gives a tear-inducing rendition of "Cupid's Lullaby" as Miranda while pretending to pet a puppy in her arms. (The cast mimes the invisible Cupid when they interact with him, though at times we feel like he's really there.) Later in the show, Norris and VanWinkle sing a riotous drinking song, "Better Saturday Nights," that earns its fair share of laughs.
David Perlman, as the anxious Roland, is fun to watch dueting with the golden-voiced Stefanie Brown, who plays Blair, during the frisky number "Let's Make Some Noise." Perlman, VanWinkle, and Brown are also delightfully naughty in the soft-core, S&M-themed dream sequence "The Nightmare." Nothing gets too risqué though. Director Justin Baldridge and choreographer Shannon Lewis keep the raciness on a short leash.
Scenic designer Lauren Mills makes good use of the Loft's traverse stage with two large multiunit cabinets whose many doors not only allow for quick scene changes (including one with a murphy bed) but they also work in tandem with Jamie Roderick's flashy lighting. Music director Dylan MarcAurele effectively leads the show's three-piece band, with Lou Garrett on guitar and Mike Livingston on reeds. Morgan's score can at times seem almost too mawkish and mundane to bear, as in the treacly "Please Come Home," but the show can hardly be faulted for being schmaltzy. After all, this is a musical about a cute puppy.
Despite its dog-eared plot, A Dog Story's surprise ending grinds the show's shortcomings into kibbles. Only a curmudgeon could leave the theater without smiling at this cuddly valentine to puppy love.