“Rescue Rue” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at The Ford Foundation Studio Theatre (Closed on Sunday July 20, 2014)

July 13, 2014 | NY Musical Theatre | Tags:
Music and Lyrics by Kate Steinberg and Joshua Zecher-Ross
Concept, Book, and Additional Lyrics by Stacey Weingarten
Directed by Stacey Weingarten
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Based on the true story of Rue, the Chiweenie who was rescued from a high-kill animal shelter in the South and found her way to the more humane Badness Brooklyn Animal Shelter, “Rescue Rue” is a charming new musical with enduring themes of universal love and the importance of a supportive home and family.

The story itself is narrated by Sarah Haines and is the relatively straightforward tale of the rescue of Rue from her abusive family to a loving home in Brooklyn, New York. That journey puts her in harm’s way as she attempts to survive on the street and in the high-kill shelter where she and her comrades await daily being sold off to dog fight organizers. Rue (Lisa Helmi Johansen) is accompanied most often by her streetwise and heart-hardened buddy Squish (Jennifer Barnhart) who wants to re-open her heart to love.

An outstanding cast of singers and “Avenue Q” puppeteers command the stage as they tell Rue’s important story. Under Stacey Weingarten’s generous and gifted direction and accompanied by the “Rescue Rue” Band, the strong ensemble cast fills the stage with hope, joy, and pure enjoyment. Audience favorites are “Danger’s Coming,” “I Just Need Me,” and “Furever Friend.”

However, “Rescue Rue” is more than a puppet show for children (although it is that par excellence!). Like other children’s stories that hold a deeper meaning for adults (think “Winnie-the-Pooh” or “The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland”), “Rescue Rue” is an engaging and marvelous trope for the new beginnings awaiting all those seeking unconditional and non-judgmental love, all those existing on the fringe of society awaiting a place “around the table.” For example, this seemingly innocent musical is a powerful extended metaphor for immigration reform, marriage equality, and the universal struggle for equal rights.

And like those struggles, Rue’s journey often requires the aid of real friends and the occasional “Fairy Dogmother.” Rue’s Fairy Dogmother (GretchenWylder) personifies all those who over the centuries have come to the aid of those on the journey to new beginnings. The day this reviewer saw “Rescue Rue” the real Rue was sitting in the audience in a delightful puppy carrier. Just think, this could also be your bonus gift for attending the remaining performances of this absorbing story of the search for all that humankind calls home.