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Roger Rees Puts on His Director's Hat for the World Premiere of Dog and Pony at the Old Globe

The award-winning actor and director chats about launching an original musical and reprising his Tony-nominated Peter and the Starcatcher partnership with husband Rick Elice.

As a Tony-winning actor and Tony-nominated director, Roger Rees seems to have mastered the ways of the theater from both sides of the stage. After starring this past Broadway season in the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of The Winslow Boy, he returns to his director's chair to lead the world premiere of Dog and Pony, an original musical now playing at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre.

Rees rekindles some of the magic from his Tony-nominated time at the helm of Broadway's Peter and the Starcatcher, reuniting with Tony-nominated book writer (not to mention husband) Rick Elice, who has teamed up with composer Michael Patrick Walker to build this new project from the ground up. With a five-person cast of Broadway veterans including Helen Hayes Award winner Heidi Blickenstaff ([title of show]), Tony winner Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone), Eric William Morris (Mamma Mia!), Nicole Parker (Wicked), and Jon Patrick Walker (Young Frankenstein), the story follows the developing romance between a pair of screenwriters, Andy (Walker) and Mags (Parker), who struggle to hold onto their perfect collaborative partnership. Rees took some time in between rehearsals to talk about the new musical as well as the nature of his own collaborative experiences that have built his illustrious theatrical career.

Roger Rees (right) directs Dog and Pony, a new musical comedy premiering at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, with a book by his husband and frequent collaborator, Rick Elice (left).
(© David Gordon)

Who initiated the development of this new musical?
It was a play that Rick Elice had written. It's a completely new idea, not based on anything. He and Michael [Patrick Walker] became friends and they talked about it and they thought it would make a very good musical, so then Michael got on board. They have been writing this for about four or five years in its different forms and it's very exciting to actually be able to get a production in such a wonderful theater as the Old Globe here in San Diego.

With so many musicals recently being adaptations of films, do you take pride in the fact that this is a completely original project?
I like that it's not from something else, but of course everything was original one time. Shakespeare used many ideas for stories from people who existed before he did. Everyone has written on the storytelling of the generations before them, but it's very nice to have something that isn't from a movie or another play. But, for instance, My Fair Lady is one of the greatest musicals ever and that comes from Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw — a great classic play. So you've got a great classic play, which stands on its own, and then you've got a great musical that stands on its own. What's lovely here is you have a completely fresh thing [that] audiences are going to come to, rather like the first audiences came to Hamlet. They didn't know what the end of Hamlet was going to be when Hamlet was written, so it's thrilling that people won't know the story and they'll be anxious to hear.

What can audiences expect to see in Dog and Pony? Would you call it a traditional musical or a more out-of-the-box show like Peter and the Starcatcher, your last collaboration with Rick?
I don't think it's a traditional musical in an accepted sense. The book and the music from Michael and Rick are very adult, very intelligent, very funny, and very very moving. It's in the round, it's very fast [and] very filmic, but it's completely theatrical. Anything I do is as theatrical as I can get it. I think [audiences will] come out having been moved and having laughed a lot and I think that's what you ask. When I see these actors working, I so much want to be in it. But of course I have to direct it. [laughs]

Nicole Parker as Mags and Eric William Morris as Joe in the world premiere of Dog and Pony.
(© Jim Cox)

The show follows two people through their creative partnership. Has Rick written any aspects of your relationship into the script?
No, I don't think. Although Rick and I work on a lot of things…I don't think it's particularly anything about our relationship. This is about two people who write movies together, so they spend twenty-four-seven together. They're always in each other's company. It's a man and a woman. He's married and she's not but she loves him and he loves her in his way and it's about that relationship and how things develop as they write one very successful movie.

Dog and Pony is described as being about "the nature of the perfect collaboration." Do you think there is such a thing as a perfect collaboration?
Nothing in the world in perfect. Even a still photograph. No lens is quick enough to track the movement of the human body. The molecules are always moving. I don't think perfection is possible. I think you can attempt to reach perfection but I don't think it's a possible thing. I think perfection is a moving point and we spend our artistic lives chasing it.