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First staged at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London in 2022, the touring production of 101 Dalmatians The Musical has, er, emBARKed on its first UK & Ireland tour and is currently showing at Birmingham theatre The Alexandra.

Based on the 1956 children’s novel of the same name by Dodie Smith, and adapted for the cinema by Disney, this timeless tail (sorry, tale) has been cleverly reimagined for the stage. And although clearly aimed at a family audience, it’s nowhere near as sugar-coated as the aforementioned Disney adaptations. Indeed, in places, the production, although essentially fun-filled, is actually quite dark and gruesome by comparison.

The show tells the story of doting dalmatian puppy parents Pongo and Perdi, who enjoy a picture-perfect existence with their larger-than-life litter of 15 puppies. Until, that is, the puppies are stolen to order for the ever-so-evil Cruella De Vil, who wants to make herself a spotty coat out of their fur.

But the ghoulishly wicked fashionista with the heart of pure stone has reckoned without the extraordinary lengths to which Pongo and Perdi will go in order to rescue their super-cute offspring...

Waterloo Road and former Coronation Street favourite Kym Marsh stars as Cruella and brings a huge stage presence and impressively strong vocals to the part of the panto-style villain. During the tour, she is sharing the role of Cruella with Steps singer Faye Tozer, who will be playing the part when the show visits Wolverhampton in August.

This classic canine caper is brought to life on stage by an exceptional cast, clever puppetry, great choreography, hilarious songs and irresistible puppies.

Pongo and Perdi are represented by beautifully crafted puppets. With hinged legs and irrepressibly wagging tails, they are operated by Linford Johnson and Emma Thornett respectively, who also provide the dogs’ voices, bringing the canine couple beautifully to life.

Pongo and Perdi’s puppies are initially small stuffed toys, but later on in the show join their parents in being represented by puppets (smaller ones, of course), full of life and energy.

The production’s action isn’t confined to the stage either, with cast members - sometimes accompanied by puppets - on occasion walking through the auditorium, much to the delight of the children in the audience. Whatever your age, wear your polka dots and dalmatian ears. Bring your own dalmatian soft toys. You will be counted at the end to make up the 101 rescued dalmatians!

This good-versus-evil yarn can at times be a bit overwhelming - the stage is often packed with actors, sometimes making the story difficult to follow. That said, if you embrace the high-quality puppet work, the infectious enthusiasm of the cast, and the somewhat curious experience of finding the devilishly dramatic villain strangely quite likeable, you’re pretty sure to have a thoroughly entertaining night out at the theatre.

4 stars

101 Dalmatians The Musical was reviewed by Sue Hull on Tuesday 2 July at Birmingham theatre The Alexandra, where it shows until this Saturday 6 July. The production returns to the Midlands next month, showing at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Tuesday 20 to Saturday 24 August.