Chihuahuas Boo Boo, Chico, and Teddy and bulldogs Chloe and Zizi are about to hit the big time as Elle Woods’s doggy brood in the Broadway production of Legally Blonde. Bill Berloni, animal trainer to the stars since Annie’s Sandy in 1977, spoke with Arianne Cohen.
How do you cast canines?
The director wanted a bulldog that a 98-pound actress could carry, so I had to find the smallest stunted females alive. I found Chloe, who is 42 pounds, and her understudy, Zizi, 38 pounds.
Why do you use shelter dogs?
I can’t say, “Will you sign your great Chihuahua over to me and never see it again?” With so many homeless animals, the chances of finding a perfect shelter dog are very good.
What don’t theater people get about animal actors?
You have a writer who’s seen a lot of movies and doesn’t know how difficult it is to make these tricks happen. Here, they wanted Chico to pull open a shower curtain with her teeth, the way Toto reveals the wizard. Have you looked closely at that scene? The curtain is tied to Toto’s collar.
What can Chico do?
For the opening, Chico runs onstage and tells the sorority girls where Elle is. So they say, “Where’s Elle?” And he barks, back and forth, five times. He also jumps into a bag and licks, all to actor hand signals.
What happens when the actors forget to give the cue?
Dogs don’t have the cognitive process to think, I’ll cover. They walk offstage to the trainer and say, “What do we do?”
Where do the dogs retire?
Well, I have sixteen house dogs.
Why do you prefer stage to film?
I don’t pursue a lot of movie work because the animals are treated as props. You could go see a movie where the dog’s the main character, and the trainer is credited below the caterers.
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