Canine Cosmonauts Hit the Stage | Playbill

Special Features Canine Cosmonauts Hit the Stage

How Van Hughes and Nick Blaemire created the so-absurd-it-must-be-true musical Space Dogs.

Van Hughes and Nick Blaemire Marc J. Franklin

The first living beings to travel to outer space were not humans, but dogs. Over three dozen pups were taken off the streets of Russia, trained by scientists at doggy space camp for over a year, and then sent to the outer reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. Now, that story is being musicalized by Van Hughes and Nick Blaemire in their two-hander stage show at MCC, which began performances January 25.

The story had always been at the back of Hughes’ mind, but he finally got to work on the tale of canine cosmonauts a few years ago. “The story is really about a human and a dog and having to send that dog away in order to get what the human really wants—which is a man in space.”

Hughes and Blaemire, who hadn't yet worked together professionally but knew each other well enough to have collaborated on some musical endeavors, knew immediately Space Dogs was the perfect first theatrical project for them. Getting away from commercialization and capturing a zeitgeist moment, the pair are focusing on showcasing their love for this story through a wide-range of musical styles.

Following the pups during space training, for instance, audiences can expect an homage to a famous montage from another Russian vs. American story, Rocky. Other inspirations include the theatricality of David Byrne, the country-tinged classics of the Everly Brothers, and the arena rock of Queen. In all, there are a baker’s dozen of musical styles, from hip-hop to electro pop to opera, found throughout the musical.

The eclectic music is embedded in a book that has pacing reminiscent of a story told by a good friend who’s nearly breathless because what they’ve learned is exciting and mind-blowing. “I would be looking on the Internet, corroborating the dates, and then writing down the way that Van was telling me the story...and that became the script,” says Blaemire.

“The form is almost like a TED talk with a lot of tricks up our sleeve,” adds Hughes. “We play the dogs, we play the scientists, the politicians, the Russians, etc.” To create their own little space station on stage at MCC, the two use puppets and play instruments to make the story come alive.

The end result is a stage show unlike any other—just as special as those out-of-this-world pups who managed to go to space even before humans.

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