the dog run to superstardom
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
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
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.
©2005 Community Newspaper Group