Bark! The Musical is not the dog's answer to Cats—and sadly, it doesn't try to be. In sharp contrast, Bark! fails to deliver in the most important way: It doesn't take itself seriously.
Cats, the Andrew Lloyd Webber production inspired by the poetry of T.S. Eliot, ran for nearly 20 years on Broadway because it managed to captivate audiences with its storyline—not to mention its impressive costuming and set design. Bark! was obviously not inspired by the work of a literary giant such as Eliot, but it's questionable if it was written by a person who would deign to call himself literary at all. While in the position to offer a farcical take on its over-the-top feline counterpart, Bark! fails; it is not silly to make a point, but rather just plain silly.
Though it is set in a doggy daycare, and the first couple of songs help to establish the background of the dogs' personalities, the musical quickly digresses, abandoning any hope of a plot, and instead presents non sequitur vignettes about varying subjects, from living in a pound to dying. As if this wasn't disjointed enough, the characters don't stay consistent—a dog who early on claims to have been bought at a pet store later sings the woes of shelter life, while supposedly still at daycare. These attempts at sentimentality feel forced, and certainly come nowhere near the power of Cats' "Memory."
Aside from obvious script problems, Triangle Productions' presentation did not even offer production elements to fall back on. Instead, the already meager subject matter was presented on a sparse set with few lighting cues, and showcased awful choreography in poor costumes. The only interesting and discernibly dog-like costume was that of Chanel the poodle, played by Wendy Martel-Vilkin; while her black-and-white ensemble was a little over-the-top French, her curly bangs and pigtails were quite clever, and conveyed her character effectively.
If it weren't for the cast, Bark! would be completely laughable. Each cast member had vigor and decent singing ability, which made the show bearable, but the cute-as-a-button performance of Debbie Hunter and the scene-stealing voices of Martel-Vilkin and Jon Ellingson truly saved the show.