Theatre | Doctor a true natural | Ken Longworth

CLASSIC: Angie Hutchison-Ussher, Jane Martin and Glen Ironman in Maitland Musical Society’s Doctor Dolittle. Photo by Amber Lewis.
CLASSIC: Angie Hutchison-Ussher, Jane Martin and Glen Ironman in Maitland Musical Society’s Doctor Dolittle. Photo by Amber Lewis.

THE title character in the musical Dr Dolittle refers to himself as an animal doctor and not as a veterinarian because he treats his patients very much like humans.

As Glen Ironman, who plays him in Maitland Musical Society’s production of the show notes, Dr Dolittle finds animals easier to deal with and caring for them enables him to live in a world of his own.

And this musical certainly has a lot of colourful animals, including the doctor’s English-speaking parrot, Polynesia, who helps him to communicate with his patients, among them a seal called Sophie, a pig known as Gub Gub, a duck, Dab Dab, a monkey, dog, a fox and a two-headed llama, known as the Pushmi-Pullyu.

In many productions, most of the animals are puppet characters, but this one has all of them played by actors in colourful costumes.

The musical draws on the Dr Dolittle children’s stories by Hugh Lofting, and is adapted from the popular 1967 film musical Dr Dolittle which had Rex Harrison as the title character. The stage work retains all composer Leslie Bricusse’s songs from that film, including the Academy Award-winning Talk to the Animals.

Maitland Musical Society is staging the show with weekend performances in Maitland and Dungog in the school holidays, opening at St John’s Pro-Cathedral Hall in Cathedral Street, Maitland, on September 22.

The musical has a cast of 40, with Jane Martin as Polynesia, Ben Starling as the doctor’s supportive friend, Matthew Mugg, Craig Croxton as General Bellowes, an officious magistrate who puts Dolittle on trial for supposedly throwing a woman off a cliff, and Angie Hutchison-Ussher as the general’s niece, Emma, who initially supports her uncle but is increasingly attracted to the doctor.

The trial leads to many flashbacks, which show how Dolittle became an animal doctor and his relationships with animal patients.

Angie Hutchison-Ussher notes that Emma is initially upfront and abrupt, sharply dismissive of Dolittle in the songs You’re Impossible and Fabulous Places, but she gradually comes to see the value of Dolittle’s relationship with animals, leading her to help him search for a legendary creature known as the Great Pink Sea Snail.

Dr Dolittle is directed by Jeanette Massey, with Ian Massey as musical director of the orchestra. As well as performing in the show, Angie Hutchison-Ussher has also done the choreography.

Dr Dolittle has Maitland performances at 8pm on Friday and Saturday and 2pm on Sunday from September 22 to October 1, with shows at Dungog’s James Theatre on Saturday, October 7, at 3pm, and Sunday, October 8, at 1.30pm. Book through trybooking.com.