As far as actors go, Brady Xavier Bunch’s demands are few.
Attention is always nice. Treats for a job well done are somewhat expected.
A little belly rub? Well, that would make Brady’s day.
Brady is a Maltese-Yorkie mix with a relatively extensive resume on stage, making the tiny dog perfectly cast as Bruiser in The Cary Players production of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”
The production, based on the popular film, started last weekend and continues Friday through Sunday at the Cary Arts Center.
Bruiser, played by a Chihuahua in the “Legally Blonde” films, mostly shares scenes with his on-stage owner, Elle Woods. In the Cary Players production, the perky Harvard law student is played by Hillsborough actress A.C. Donohue.
And while Brady appears on stage a few times with his pink bedazzled collar, he’s not the only dog in the feel-good musical, though his owner/agent Sarah Preston said Brady would like to believe he’s the only star.
“He doesn’t really acknowledge there’s another dog,” she said.
Brady’s co-star is Ava, a loveable, lumbering dog with a huge tongue and a tendency to drool on stage. Ava, a boxer-shepherd mix, is making her acting debut as Rufus, who belongs to Elle Woods’s hairdresser pal, Paulette.
Actor W.C. Fields famously said, “Never work with animals or children,” and having dogs on stage and behind the scenes certainly adds a level of unpredictability. Wigs get knocked over, and Ava’s drool sometimes needs to be mopped up. Actors don’t know if their canine counterparts will bark or whimper on cue, or whether a normally chatty pup will suddenly (and uncharacteristically) become silent when it’s time to speak up.
“You always have an element of complication when you involve pets,” said Debra Grannan, the show’s producer and mother of Ava’s owner, Kat Thompson. “There are so many moving pieces. We’re crossing our fingers.”
Ava and Brady were cast because their owners are involved with the show, making the dogs slightly more inclined to behave and cooperate, said Grannan, a senior planner with the Town of Cary.
“They’re making sure they’re calm and have what they need,” she said.
Brady is owned by Sarah and Jaret Preston. Sarah, who oversees operations for the Cary Arts Center, plays one of Elle’s sorority sisters. Jaret has two roles in the play – a rapper and a professor. He also makes sure treats are on hand and is off stage during a scene with Brady.
Jaret Preston, who is on the board of directors for The Cary Players, has directed Brady before in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But a few days before opening night, he has a wait-and-see approach about how the dogs will perform when they’re faced with lights, music and an audience.
The actors and crew with the “Legally Blonde” production seem to enjoy having the dogs around, even if it means occasionally stepping in a water bowl or needing a lint brush to be within arm’s reach at all times.
Jaret Preston said casting real dogs is necessary in a show like “Legally Blonde.” The anticipation of the unexpected embodies the spirit of amateur theater.
“They’re as much a part of the amateur community theater as we are,” he said.
Brady Xavier Bunch
Agents: Jaret and Sarah Preston
Casting call: Playing Bruiser, owned by Elle Woods (played by A.C. Donohue). In the film, Bruiser is played by a Chihuahua.
Age: 8 years old
Weight: 8 pounds
Acting experience: “Brady has an extensive resume,” Sarah Preston said. He was in “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” walked across stage in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and was in a TV pilot for a show called “Puppy Love.” “He ended up just being a dog the host walked with,” she said. This will be the most stage time he’s had so far.
Getting into the act: “He’s very friendly with people and all kinds of dogs,” Sarah said. He’s also a fan of treats and bones.
Stage presence: “Well, that’s to be determined,” Sarah Preston said. “You know, it’s whatever he’s feeling in the moment. He’s a Method actor. He really feels out the present moment.” He does make a funny whimper if it appears no one is paying him any attention.
Star power: Brady has a Facebook page with 63 friends and can be found commenting and posting an occasional selfie.
Agents: Kat Thompson and John Karnofsky (Karnofsky is on the Cary Players board of directors and is the group’s webmaster. He and Thompson are engaged.)
Casting call: Plays Rufus, owned by Paulette (played by Natalie Turgeon). In the film, Rufus is a bulldog.
Age: “A very energetic 9 years old,” said Thompson, who grew up in Cary and now lives in Raleigh.
Weight: 74 pounds
Acting experience: Ava is making her stage debut, though Thompson has been involved with the theater group for 11 years. Thompson, who works as a corporate trainer, is the hair designer for “Legally Blonde” and has previous behind-the-scenes experience with Cary Players productions.
Getting into the act: Thompson said director Nancy Rich wanted a big, goofy dog to play Rufus. “I’ve got a big goofy dog,” she said. Ava will be in two short scenes. In one of them, Ava will come out of a trailer and act hyper and happy. “Which shouldn’t be hard for her,” Thompson said. In another scene, the line calls for Rufus to sit, but the arthritic dog doesn’t like hard surfaces. Instead, Ava will shake hands with her human co-star.
Stage presence: Thompson expects Ava to behave. The dog tends to get excited at first, but then quiets down, plus Thompson will be in the wings for one of the scenes. Still, she said she’s anxious to see how Ava will do on opening night. “I wonder what’s going through a dog’s head,” she said, mulling how Ava will respond to other actors.
Star power: Ava swapped her normal pink bandana for a blue one for her costume. She got a taste of glamour in a photo shoot before the play. In one scene, Paulette (Turgeon) holds up a photo of Rufus wearing a sailor hat. Debra Grannan took a photo of Ava wearing the hat and had it blown up for the set.
‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’
Shows are Friday, May 1, and Saturday, May 2, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 3 at 3 p.m. at the Cary Arts Center, 101 Dry Ave. Tickets are $20. Order tickets at The Cary theater box office at 122 E. Chatham St., through www.etix.com or go to www.caryplayers.org. Advance student and senior tickets are $18.