In what could be one of the cutest mashups possible, kids and puppies - or rather, kids dressed like puppies - star in the York Little Theatre play, "Disney's 101 Dalmatians Kids," opening Friday, Feb. 21.

The children's series musical follows the animated film based on the novel "The Hundred and One Dalmatians" by Dodie Smith. Director Sara Smith said the family show was written for children, with language that's easy to understand, but will be enjoyable for adults as well. Smith said the original characters and songs, including "Cruella De Vil" and "Kanine Krunchies," are all there.

"You're going to see the villains, you're going to see the saving of the day; it's all there from your childhood," she said.

Frankie Grippi plays one of the Dalmatian puppies and Maria Fisher plays Cruella de Vil in the York Little Theatre production of 101 Dalmatians KIDS.
Frankie Grippi plays one of the Dalmatian puppies and Maria Fisher plays Cruella de Vil in the York Little Theatre production of 101 Dalmatians KIDS. (John A. Pavoncello)

Managing a fleet of children on stage - the show is performed by students 17 and younger - may seem daunting, but Smith, a first-time volunteer at York Little Theatre, said she enjoyed the challenge. Children are different from adults in may ways, but she said they tend to rise to your expectations when given the chance.

"I enjoy kids a lot," Smith said. "Their imaginations are just so excited to see what's next."

Some of the kids are first-time performers, while others are returning cast members. Smith said she can count on the experienced high schoolers to shepherd some of the "little guys" around. She said Roger and Anita, played by Drake Bowser and Erin Perry, have stepped wonderfully into their roles as "parents" of the puppies.

"I can look to them and be sure they're going to guide this myriad of little puppies around," she said.

Other standout roles are puppy-parents Pongo and Perdita, played by Darrin Richard and Molly Young, and a pack of six of their own puppies, who have a more prominent role in the show.

"They just really shine," Smith said.

She said the audience will also enjoy the performance of Cruella De Vil's bumbling thieves Horace and Jasper, played by Noah Schmitt and Asher Vendramin.

"They just crack me up," she said. "They're a lot of fun for anyone to watch."

Cast member Kathrin Scheidhamnmer, who plays Nanny in the show, is new to York Little Theatre as well - a German exchange student from Eastern High School, Scheidhamnmer was looking for a way to satisfy the community service element for her program when her host mother suggested the theater.

"She was only in the country a few days, walked in and auditioned," Smith said. "She was awesome."

Smith said the Disney classic continues to enchant audiences not only because the puppies are cute to look at, but because it presents such an unrelatable villain in Cruella De Vil. Because it is written for children, Smith said she was thoughtful in her consideration of how the character would be presented on stage. Marie Fisher, who plays De Vil, and Smith talked about distancing the character from the small children to make the show accessible and enjoyable, even for a young audience.

"She's very engaging, and she gets to break character at the end and come on stage as Marie," Smith said. "She'll take pictures with the kids as Marie, so hopefully if they want to meet Cruella De Vil they can do that."

Other characters from the show will take photos with the audience following the show, as well. In addition, "adoption certificates" will be sold for the chance to take home one of the stuffed puppy props, who round out the count to 101, after the run of the show. There will be face painting, a meet-and-greet with a real Dalmatian and other activities to enjoy.

"It's going to be a delightful show," Smith said.

See the show

"Disney's 101 Dalmatians Kids" opens at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, at York Little Theatre, 27 S. Belmont St., York.

Additional performances will be held on Feb. 22, 23, 28, March 1 and 2. Sunday performances are at 3 p.m. All other performances are at 7 p.m.

Tickets: $12 adults and seniors, $12 students. Save $2 off ticket price if purchased prior to opening night. Information: 717-854-5715 or www.ylt.org.