Broadway Animal Trainer Bill Berloni Readies 10 Year Old For ‘The Wiz Live’By Susan Richard


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)  A 10 year old rescued Cairn terrier is about to ‘Ease On Down The Road’ to stardom.

His name is Scooter and he’s the new Toto in ‘The Wiz Live!’ (Thursday, December 3rd at 8 p.m. ET on NBC).  He and his brother Ralphie are the latest ‘wags to riches’ story for Bill Berloni, who has trained just about every dog whose ever appeared on Broadway.  In fact, Scooter and Ralphie follow in a long line of rescued four legged actors, beginning with the original Sandy in the 1977 production of ‘Annie’.  Berloni heads the company Theatrical Animals which also gave us, among others, the bulldog and chihuahua in Legally Blonde, the Bumpus hounds in A Christmas Story, the pomeranian in ‘Bullets Over Broadway’, Toto in the 2009 Encores! revival of The Wiz and Bowdie, the dog that stole the show on TV last year, as Nana in ‘Peter Pan Live!’on NBC.

Bill Berloni with Sandy in the original production of Annie (Photo Credit: Bill Berloni/Theatrical Animals)

Bill Berloni with Sandy in the original production of Annie (Photo Credit: Bill Berloni/Theatrical Animals)

This year, it’s Scooter’s turn, with Ralphie waiting in the wings, because, after all, even four legged actors need an understudy.  Berloni adopted them from Cairn Rescue USA in Chicago after being summoned by the producers of ‘The Wiz Live!’ to find the next Toto. Berloni notes that in the original movie The Wizard of Oz, Toto was played by a black cairn terrier, while in the original 1975 stage production of The Wiz, the dog had white fur.  In this production, Berloni chuckled as he told 1010 WINS, the producers wanted a beige dog, and he hit the jackpot when he found these two siblings.  But this being show biz, there was bound to be at least some drama.  In this case, it was the age of the dogs.  “I went out to temperament test them”, Berloni told 1010 WINS, and the unusual thing was, they were ten years old, and I thought, ugh, they might be a little too old for the show.  But when I met them they were happy and well trained and housebroken and energetic and I thought, here are two senior dogs who are going to be stars.”

Is Scooter ready for his close up?  Yes, insists Berloni, who says after rehearsing in studios in Manhattan, both Scooter and Ralphie had no problem transitioning to the massive sound stage on Long Island from where the show will actually broadcast.  Berloni also had to train the two legged co-stars on how to cue the dog during their scenes (which, by the way, come only in Kansas because in The Wiz, Toto doesn’t go to Oz). Berloni says Shanice Williams, who plays Dorothy, has two dogs at home and was a natural. “She scooped up these two little cairn terriers and kisses them and hugs them and you see that on camera and that’s not fake.”

Bill Berloni with Scooter (top left) and Ralphie (bottom left) (Photo Credit: Purina Pro Plan?

Bill Berloni with Scooter (top left) and Ralphie (bottom left) (Photo Credit: Purina Pro Plan)

When Berloni isn’t training his giant pack (around thirty dogs who share a forever home at his ranch in Connecticut) he’s the behaviorist for the Humane Society of New York, and uses his ‘acting dogs’ to help promote animal rescue.  In this case he’s teamed with Purina Pro Plan to feature Scooter and Ralphie as the spokesdogs for their Bright Mind Adult 7+ dog food.  As part of November’s Adopt A Senior Pet Month, Purina has been donating food to animal shelters around the country.

Learn more about Bill Berloni’s ‘Theatrical Animals’ by clicking HERE.