Not too long before Seth MacFarlane made Brian Griffin the best-known talking dog in America on "Family Guy," the prolific playwright A.R. Gurney gave voice to a young female dog in his imaginative and heartwarming man-and-pet comedy "Sylvia," which premiered Off-Broadway in 1995.
If Daniel Sullivan's Broadway revival doesn't necessarily make you a fan of dogs, it will most definitely make you a fan of Annaleigh Ashford, who won a Tony last year for her scene-stealing performance as a woefully helpless, aspiring ballerina in "You Can't Take It With You" and also appears on the Showtime series "Masters of Sex."
Ashford gives an absolutely wonderful performance as the title character, a dog that the middle-aged, absent-minded Greg (Matthew Broderick) finds one day in Central Park and brings home to his West Side apartment, much to the annoyance of his wife, Kate (Julie White), who starts to view Sylvia as the "other woman," competing for Greg's time and affection.
As playfully portrayed by Ashford (who wears everyday clothing plus some patches of fur and knee pads), Sylvia is everything at once: innocent, excited, confrontational, scared, silly, tender, hormonal, adoring and always adorable. This truly is one of those must-see performances that will stick with you for some time.
Broderick gives the sort of cartoonish, oddball performance previously seen in shows such as "The Producers" and last year's "It's Only a Play," but it works unusually well here, and he has terrific chemistry with Ashford. In their hands, "Sylvia" is a most unusual, quite touching love story.
White delivers a cold dose of reality as the harried wife, and Robert Sella is superb in several exaggerated supporting roles, including the psychiatrist who tries to diagnose why Greg has such affection for Sylvia.
If you go: "Sylvia" plays at the Cort Theatre through Jan. 24. 138 W. 48th St., sylviabroadway.com.