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Tommy Tune knows musicals. And Tommy Tune is the consummate performer. “Dr. Dolittle,” the new musical staged by and starring Tommy Tune, is a wonderful vehicle for Tune who taps his way into the hearts of the audience.

And Tune knows that Dolittle is the perfect show to introduce musical theater to children. The show has it all: wondrous sets, imaginative, sparkly costumes, loveable characters and fantastic puppetry.

Most know the story; Dolittle (Tune) is the veterinarian who can actually talk to the animals. Among his menagerie: a nearsighted horse (“Toggle”), a singing bird (“Polynesia”), an overweight pig (“Gub-Gub”) and a tap-dancing monkey (“Chee-Chee.”) Doolittle treats the animals like people and loses his veterinary license after an unfortunate case of mistaken identity: He throws the disguised-as-a-woman Sophie the Seal into the sea (to return home to her fiancé Ernie), and witnesses are convinced he threw a woman to her death. Dolittle turns to his animal friends and together they embark on a long journey.

Tune is stellar; he really knows how to put on a show. He isn’t fazed by screaming children in the balcony or their obvious short-attention spans. The man has been performing for 40 years and he’s a joy to watch. The rest of the cast is a treat as well.

The formidable Dee Hoty as Lady Emma Fairfax is perfect: sassy and stubborn yet graceful and gentle-hearted.

The chorus-members also double as the animals, by puppetry, costuming or both. And the animals come alive behind the mastery of their humans.

Musical numbers are short and sweet; perfect for the youngsters in the audience. Visually, the show is stunning: from a giant sea snail named Jean-Pierre to a sparkling lunar moth that Dolittle actually rides on as it flies away.

“Dr. Dolittle” does have a certain bit of tongue-in-cheek to it. And that’s what makes it work. It comes back to Tune, though. His professionalism, his eagerness to entice younger audiences to the live musical theater and his enthusiasm and skill are a sight to behold. And it’s best seen live, like this.

At the end of the show, Tune took a few moments to talk to the audience. It made the night even more charming.

Did you see this show? E-mail your review to Molly at molly.bettiga@voiceofsandiego.org or submit a letter to the editor here.

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