Applause FOR Paws No bones about it, Amazing Mongrels steal the show

May 10, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

They don't receive star billing, but they steal the show every night.

That's quite an accomplishment since, compared to the bevy of long-legged chorus girls in "The Will Rogers Follies," these cast members are real dogs.

REAL dogs. Eight of them: Buster, Corky, Penny, Lady, Louie, Tom, Queen and Shaggy.

Collectively, they are known as the Amazing Mongrels, and they are owned and trained by Bob and Jeanne Moore of Bloomington, Calif.

The Moores adopted all of their performing pooches from pounds and trained them to be the show-biz sensations they are today, touring the country in the Wild West Show segment of the Tony Award-winning "Will Rogers Follies," which continues its run at the Lyric Opera House

through May 23.

The canine cast members jump rope, steal Bob's cowboy hat, stand on their hind legs on a suspended rope, and leap through barrels -- all with obvious tail-wagging glee. In fact, the barrel trick is one they're so eager to perform that two have been known to dive through at once -- from opposite directions.

To train the dogs, Moore uses a process he describes simply as "repetition and reward." There are no brush-up rehearsals on the road. "Once they learn it, they don't

need to be refreshed," his wife explains.

The dogs travel in a white air-conditioned van, customized with individual kennels designed and built by Moore. He also has the task of vacuuming these quarters every morning -- a necessity since the Amazing Mongrels are long-haired animals. He believes the majority are cockapoos, though a couple of the larger ones look like sheep dog mixes.

In selecting a dog, Moore says, "I just look for what looks good in the pound." And what looks good are animals that jump up and want to play. He also gives each candidate a simple test.

"You take them and cradle them in your arms upside down, like a baby. They won't let you do that if they don't have any self-confidence," he says. "You can't train them if they don't trust you."

In 1980, the Moores received a Sydney Award from Priscilla Presley on "Those Amazing Animals" for saving dogs from the pound; they were also nominated for the American Humane Association's Patsy award for an appearance on "The Love Boat"; and they have performed at numerous fund-raisers.

One of the most touching stories about their rescue efforts occurred when "The Will Rogers Follies" was in Pittsburgh, and

See DOGS, 2D, Col. 6 DOGS, from 1D

the Moores held televised auditions at the local pound. "I picked a dog, and they said, 'We can't release it until Friday.' A kid recognized it and said, 'That's my dog!' " Moore says.

In addition to the eight dogs and two adults, the Amazing Mongrels' entourage also includes the Moores' two young daughters, Rose, 10, and Laura, 8. The family travels in a recreational vehicle, which is pulled by the white van. When they reach their destination, they stay at a campsite in the vicinity of the theater. For the Baltimore engagement, they're at a campground in Millersville.

Before each performance, the Moores park the dogs' van outside the Lyric's loading dock, where it serves as the animals' dressing room. The dogs are fed after the evening performance. They consume 40 pounds of premium dog food a week.

Though Jeanne Moore married into the dog act, her husband was born into it. His father, Dwight, had a dog act in vaudeville; when he retired in 1975, Bob and Jeanne took over the act.

Bob's sister, Bonnie Brackney, and her husband, Tom, are also in the business. Brackney's Madcap Mutts are in the original Broadway production of "The Will Rogers Follies." When the Brackneys went on vacation in July, the Moores performed in the Broadway show for two weeks, then joined the national tour when it began in San Francisco in August. Baltimore is approximately the halfway point in the two-year tour. Future stops include Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle.

Although "The Will Rogers Follies" is the Amazing Mongrels' first musical comedy, the dogs' extensive credits include television ("The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," "Little House on the Prairie") and nightclubs (Caesar's Palace, the Sheraton Miami Beach) as well as the Ice Capades and Disney on Parade.

Of course, audiences are used to seeing dog acts in nightclubs and on variety shows. But how popular are they really in an award-winning Broadway musical?

A spokeswoman for the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts reports that the center has gotten more inquiries about the Amazing Mongrels than any other aspect of "The Will Rogers Follies." There's even a line in the script commenting on how much the audience likes the dogs.

And if that's not evidence enough, at one stop along the tour, the Amazing Mongrels actually received a fan letter -- from a cat.

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