‘No Dogs Allowed’ sniffs out the laughs

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Clarke Reader
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“It’s like a rock concert for kids.”

That’s how actor Seth Caikowski describes the Arvada Center’s latest children’s theater production, “No Dogs Allowed.”

The show runs at the center, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd., until April 12. Performances are at 10 a.m. and noon Tuesdays through Fridays, and select Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Not only does “No Dogs” feature a wide range of musical numbers, from rock and rap to blues, it also features a highly interactive set and story that will have children of all ages clapping and cheering along with the story.

“This is the most technically complex show I’ve put on yet, and one of the most highly accomplished casts I’ve worked with,” said director Edith Weiss. “There’s not a purer sound than little kids’ laughter, and we want to squeeze every drop of humor out of the script.”

The story is based on a book written by Sonia Manzano — “Maria” from Sesame Street — and follows Iris (Sarah Grover) and her Puerto Rican family in New York City as they go on a day trip to a nearby lake.

Iris sneaks her dog El Exigente (Rachel Graham) along, and all kinds of adventures ensue on the way and at the lake.

Weiss, who has directed and written many children’s plays, said it was important to her and the production that the bilingual nature of the characters and play be honored, and they received some help from a cast member.

“Sonia Justl (who plays Shorty) grew up in Brazil, and so we spent a whole rehearsal with her making sure we were getting pronunciations right,” said Caikowski, who plays Juan. “As a cast we really wanted to be respectful and honor the culture. We wanted to share it.”

One of Weiss’ favorite things about “No Dogs” is the way that Spanish is used throughout, and how students react to it. She said that many underserved schools and student groups come to see the show, and many speak Spanish, and so it’s really exciting for them to hear the language used in the play.

With all her experience working to produce theater for children, Weiss said the most important thing is that one should never talk down to them, but be honest.

“The kids are looking at everything, and they’re so attentive, but you always have to keep their attention,” said Norrell Moore, who plays Carmen. “This play really connects with kids, and they get really involved.”

Moore added that the story really focuses on problem solving, and shows children that the family on stage is just as silly as theirs are. Both Caikowski and Moore said that the family energy created on stage is a testament to how well the actors get along together. While all of this is part of the subtext of the show, Weiss said that “No Dogs Allowed” is a show that children and adults should come for the singing, the dancing and the laughter.

“All we really want is the kids to leave with joy and laughter,” she said.

For tickets and more information, call 720-898-7200 or visit www.arvadacenter.org.

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