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The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 27: Onstage at the Kodak, Part I

January 19, 2009 |  7:45 am

THeidihis is Heidi. Last year, she was "discovered" in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Times staff writer Diane Haithman. And this is her “head shot”: That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.

Whether you're a human actor, or a dog star, getting the part is all about who you know.  That's how our Heidi landed a walk-on last week at the Kodak Theater -- home of the Academy Awards -- in a touring production of the Broadway musical "Annie," which closed Sunday.

In this case, Heidi's connection was Broadway's premier theatrical dog trainer, Bill Berloni, who rescued and trained an abused stray who became the first dog to portray "Sandy" in 1976. The show moved to Broadway in 1977, and Berloni has been associated with the show since.

I interviewed Berloni for the Heidi Chronicles in early December about his book, "Broadway Tails" -- and, touched by Heidi's history as a rescue, Berloni invited Heidi, sight unseen, to do a walk-on in "Annie" when the show came to town. I didn't tell Heidi -- or Heidi's fans and entourage -- about the invitation since I know the vagaries of showbiz, but I began humming the sunny "Annie" anthem, "Tomorrow," to my bemused dog that very day.

Bill had told me that the easiest role for Heidi would be as a regular dog-on-the-street in the first-act musical number "N.Y.C." All she needed to be able to do was to walk across the stage on a leash, led by an actor. Easy enough, I thought.   

The wheels were set in motion for Heidi's highly anticipated (at least, by me)  professional stage debut. A few days before Heidi's appearance, I got a call that, before going onstage, Heidi would need to take a meeting with Mikey, the dog who plays Sandy -- another rescue dog.  Instead of the Ivy or Spago Beverly Hills, we selected  the same Studio City park where Heidi was first discovered by a pet talent agency.  This was to make sure the dogs could get along before crossing paths backstage or onstage. Heidi loves the park, as well as other dogs -- no prob.

The day before the 8 a.m. meeting, Heidi had a bath at her doggie day care -- she emerged that evening fragrant, fluffy and hysterical, as always after a shampoo. And, after arriving home, when I went out for the mail, our energetic girl bolted out the front door into the gated yard, in her usual habit of charging out after squirrels or lizards -- or, in most cases, nothing at all.

But this time, "nothing" turned out to be something. In horror, I peered out into the dark to find Heidi under a tree, 12 hours before her meeting with star Mikey and 48 hours from her stage debut, with a very large skunk dangling from her mouth.

Img_0009_4 I handled it in a calm and rational way  -- that is, screamed until Heidi dropped the skunk, herded my reeking starlet into the house, locked her in the bathroom and called my husband. Alan raced home from shopping, climbed into the tub with Heidi and slathered her with dog shampoo, a cocktail of baking soda, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, and finally some de-skunking enzymes hurriedly purchased at the local pet supply store. With suds flying against the glass shower doors, the two of them looked like cartoon characters stuck in a washing machine.

Would there be a "Tomorrow" for Heidi? I envisioned her stage career flowing down the drain with the suds. But luckily, the skunk had gotten away before anyone got bit, the enzymes did the trick and Heidi passed the sniff test. She would be able to meet Mikey tomorrow, though it was only a day away.

Next week: Heidi meets Mikey

-- Diane Haithman 

Photo: Alan Feldstein gives Heidi her emergency bath. Credit: Diane Haithman /Los Angeles Times

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