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On the dog run to superstardom

The Brooklyn Paper
The actor was chauffeured to every performance in his own town car with his own driver. The actor spit all over his co-stars with complete impunity. The actor got some of the best reviews in the entire cast.

The actor is a dog.

Not just any dog, but Sparky, a half-poodle, half-maltese theatrical newcomer who made his debut in the just-closed Brooklyn Family Theatre production of “The Wizard of Oz” at Park Slope’s Church of Gesthemane.

This hard-bitten reporter had the privilege of watching Sparky’s gripping-yet-controlled performance as Toto in the much-loved classic and found him to be a breath of fresh air (albeit scented with Milk Bone).

Although still a rambunctious puppy, the 11-month-old actor was as calm and comfortable on stage as any working professional I have ever seen (no scenery chewer, he).

Like so many show-biz stories, this one started with a lucky break.

The Brooklyn Family Theatre production already had a Toto lined up, but he abruptly canceled due to a scheduling conflict (it really was a schedule issue, sources told me, not the “creative differences” you might have read about on Page Six).

The late cancelation put co-director Jonathan Valuckas in a jam. Fortunately, the theater was a mere block from Prospect Park, a region of Brooklyn frequented by pampered, four-legged actors.

“One of the cast members told me to just go into park and just find a dog,” Valuckas recalled. “And there was Sparky, digging a little hole. I knew from the moment I saw him that he was perfect.” (I’d heard of the casting couch, but I’d never heard of the casting park.)

The good news was that Sparky’s owners, Tom Cucinotta and his daughters, Olivia and Collette, were excited about their pet’s potential. Within minutes, Sparky was at the theater sucking up to his would-be co-stars.

“He took to acting immediately,” Valuckas said. “He had such a comfort level on stage with Dorothy. He looked like he was her dog, not some dog we kidnapped to be on stage.”

Tom Cucinotta wasn’t surprised. “Sparky just loves everyone,” he said. (His affection could be his only flaw: Sparky’s one negative review did mention his overly cuddly relationship with the Wicked Witch of the West, which undermined the gravity of that character’s hostile intentions.)

Now that the play has closed, the Cucinottas are dealing with the ramifications of their dog’s emerging celebrity.

“It’s a little bizarre,” Tom said. “I mean, he’s just a dog.”

Just a dog? In an exclusive interview/walk in front of Sparky’s Cobble Hill home, I found the actor to be the consummate performer. On command, he demonstrated the skills the put him at the head of the pack, leaping into a stranger’s lap and remaining there calmly — his “Wizard of Oz” trademark.

This is no mere dog. This is a star.

Oddly, Sparky’s neighbors seem completely unimpressed by the future legend in their midsts (then again, their reluctance to hound him could just be a Brooklyn thing. After all, Stanley Tucci was sitting in the window — in the window! — of Fall Cafe on Smith Street — on Smith Street! — the other day and not a soul asked for an autograph or whispered, meekly, “I loved your work in “Big Night”).

We all know there’s a broken chew toy for every white light on Broadway, but the sky is clearly the limit for Sparky’s theatrical aspirations, much to the chagrin of Cucinotta, who has enough to juggle, what with two daughters and his own career as a teacher.

“It’s not that I’m jealous of the dog, but I really can’t handle another schedule in this house right now,” he said.


Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com
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Amy Holford says:
I need to find out if Tom is originally from Mansfield, MA. I grew up down the street from him and our families spent a lot of time together, went to the same church, etc. I think he works at my brother's daughter's school and we are wondering if it's the same person! My email is aholford@jeffwhiteheadlaw.com or amos.holford@gmail.com.

Kindest regards,

Amy Holford
317.313.1509 mobile
Oct. 21, 2012, 7:04 pm
Amy Holford says:
I need to find out if Tom is originally from Mansfield, MA. I grew up down the street from him and our families spent a lot of time together, went to the same church, etc. I think he works at my brother's daughter's school and we are wondering if it's the same person! My email is aholford@jeffwhiteheadlaw.com or amos.holford@gmail.com.

Kindest regards,

Amy Holford
317.313.1509 mobile
Oct. 21, 2012, 7:04 pm

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