SummerFest providing steady employment for doggy thespians

rcopley@herald-leader.comJuly 26, 2012 

  • IF YOU GO

    'Legally Blonde: The Musical'

    Show: Broadway hit with music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, and book by Heather Hach presented by SummerFest.

    When: Through July 29. Shows begin at 8:45 p.m. Entertainment before show.

    Where: The Arboretum amphitheater, 500 Alumni Dr.

    Tickets: General admission: $12 in advance, $15 at gate. Reserved chair: $15, $18. Reserved blanket for four: $55, $80.

    Learn more: (859) 935-1564. Mykct.org.

SummerFest is presented in what are often the dog days of summer — a term denoting the hottest, most sultry days of the year. But the term has taken on a literal meaning this year, particularly with this weekend's production of Legally Blonde — The Musical.

The show debuted in 2007, when a little dog was every girl's favorite accessory — not that much has changed — and Elle Woods has her little Bruiser. Elle's friend, Paulette, also has a beloved St. Bernard named Rufus.

And joining the canine caravan in this year's fest was Clair, a dog that appeared with the rag-tag theater group The Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream, which opened SummerFest two weeks ago.

Bruiser, a little chihuahua, was the top dog at SummerFest, and there was even a casting call for the perfect pup.

That's what director Jenny Fitzpatrick saw when Erin Pivonka came in with her 10-month-old chihuahua, Mia.

"She had her toenails painted red and a pink collar, and I knew she was the one, right away," says Fitzpatrick, who was toting Mia around during intermission of Tuesday night's rehearsal.

That was the same emotion Pivonka felt when she went to see a litter of puppies at a breeder in Indiana, looking for a companion for her aging chihuahua Chester, who has since passed on.

The other dog in Mia's house is Serena, a Great Dane. So she is used to being around bigger dogs. Denali, the dog that plays Rufus, definitely is a bigger dog.

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School English teacher Wendy Turner was contacted by her colleague Alicia Henning, who plays multiple roles in Blonde, about the possibility of having Denali in the show to play the dog Elle has to get back from Paulette's ex- boyfriend using her legal expertise.

Turner and her husband, Frank Turner, adopted Denali, a rescue, in Xenia, Ohio, four years ago and gave her the name, which means "the high one" in a native Alaskan language. It's another name for Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America.

"She was abused before she came to us, so we wanted to give her a beautiful, powerful name," Wendy Turner says.

Now, she says, Denali is "a friendly, goofy, family dog."

But this week, Denali and Mia have been getting star treatment.

"She has a trailer and a handler," Turner says. "We said, 'Next thing, we're going to have to get her a robe and sunglasses.'"

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: copiousnotes.bloginky.com.

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