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Dogs strut their stuff to play part of Sandy in ‘Annie’ at Granite Theatre

September 16, 2018

The criteria was straightforward: The ideal candidate should be medium-sized, sandy colored, obedient and love people, especially children.

Five dogs showed up Saturday afternoon to try out for the part of Sandy, the canine star in Granite Theatre of Westerly’s production of the musical “Annie” running from Nov. 23 through Dec. 23.

Levi, a 10-year-old goldendoodle owned by Renee Saltzman and Nancy Hankins of Stonington, won the part. He will get the same stipend as the other actors: $10 per performance. It’s expected that Levi will need to show up to about six rehearsals.

Saltzman called Levi a “local celebrity,” explaining she would run with him through town when she lived in downtown Pawcatuck and he was young.

“People who I didn’t even know would stop and say hi to him,” she said.

When her kids were little, she and Hankins trained Levi, their first “kid” before they had their son and daughter, to fetch diapers. When she saw the ad for the musical part, Saltzman, who comes from a family with a theater background, thought Levi would be perfect for the role given he’s in his prime, well trained — thanks to Westerly dog trainer Bob Mahl, she said — and looks similar to Sandy.

David Jepson, the artistic director for the theater who will be directing the show, and his wife, Beth Jepson, associate artistic director, evaluated the dogs. It didn’t take much deliberation for them to settle on Levi. He was the right size, had the right look and obeyed all commands.

While Sandy appears on stage only for about five minutes during the total 2½-hour show, she is one of the most memorable characters, Beth Jepson said.

A questionnaire filled out by each dog owner beforehand asked if their canine had any training, had ever been on stage and was good with crowds, among other questions. The Jepsons snapped Polaroid pictures of each dog — glamour shots, if you will — to attach to the questionnaire.

The dogs spent about five minutes on stage, which was decorated like a Victorian living room for that evening’s performance of Agatha Christie’s “A Murder is Announced,” demonstrating their abilities to obey basic commands. Several of the dog owners joked that their canines wouldn’t need to eat dinner Saturday night after all the treats they devoured during the audition.

The first dog to try out was a white and brown spotted pit bull named Pebbles, whose owner, Bill Clinton (not that Bill Clinton) of Old Lyme, listed his training on the questionnaire as “agility, Flyball, therapy work” and said he’d been on stage before.

Spot, a golden retriever mix with thick fur, known as the unofficial mayor of the town of Groton, was among those to try out. His owner, Kay Weston, said a friend of hers, who’s acted in some of the theater’s performances, told her about the casting call.

“Thank you for letting him be Spot,” Weston said to the Jepsons after his audition.

Sasha, a Lhasa Apso-Shih Tzu mix about 6 years old, owned jointly by mother and daughter Diane Glew and Laura Bryant of Westerly, also came to try out. One of Bryant’s sons gave Sasha a bath a few days earlier and practiced tricks with her.

“I don’t know if she’s quite big enough but she just looks like Sandy,” Glew said, adding that Sasha is very good with people and always looking for new friends.

Dakota, a 9½-month-old terrier mix, was the last to audition, and arguably the most excited, sprinting up to the stage and sniffing the steps as he went up.

“He’ll do anything for food,” his owner, Katharine Leigh, said.

Leigh said that everyone who walks by Dakota comments that he’s so cute, and she’s been impressed with the performances she’s seen at the theater, so she figured why not.

When David Jepson issued a command to Dakota to “stay,” Leigh commented, “We’ve been working on that one.”

j.bergman@theday.com

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