Written by Daniella Litvak
In 1991 Warner Bros. released Dogfight, a movie starring River Phoenix, Lili Taylor, and Brendan Fraser. It was critically acclaimed and continues to receive positive reviews on IMBD. One decade later, Dogfight The Musical made its Off-Broadway debut in 2012. Since then the show has premiered all over the world. You can see it now at the Chance Theater in Anaheim.
Dogfight is the story about Private First Class Eddie Birdlace’s (Andrew Puente) last night in San Francisco before he and his fellow Marines ship out to Vietnam. (The story takes place in 1963). To make the night memorable, Birdlace and his two closest buddies –Boland (James McHale) and Bernstein (Jonathan Rosario) –organize a “dogfight”. It is a contest which requires each marine to put fifty dollars into the pot. The goal is to bring the ugliest girl they can find to a party. The person with the ugliest date wins the prize money. Birdlace decides to put his money on Rose Fenny (Ashley Arlene Nelson). Rose is a shy, diner waitress with aspirations of being a folk singer-songwriter. When Birdlace starts getting to know her, he begins doubting whether bringing her to the dogfight was a good idea.
The play is nicely constructed. Pacing is not an issue other than one or two moments coming off as abrupt. The subplots in the story enhance the main storyline while also providing good counterpoints.
The songs are great. (Though the singing is a bit muddled during the show’s start). They capture a gamut of emotions: exuberance, melancholy, romance, etc.
The acting is wonderful. Andrew Puente and Ashley Arlene Nelson are excellent in the roles of Birdlace and Rose. Both of their characters go through emotional roller coasters, and the actors are always able to express it properly, making their character development feel natural. Their scenes together are funny, heartbreaking, and sweet. They also manage to accomplish the impressive feat of having their singing sound good while they are crying. James McHale owns the role of Boland, who is thoroughly disgusting but genuinely cares about his buddies. His interactions with his date, Marcy (Kim Dalton), are entertaining to watch –especially when she knocks him down a peg or two. Dalton does an amazing job belting out the title song. Then there’s Jonathan Rosario’s Bernstein, the nerdiest one of the bunch. The role is mostly comic relief, but then comes a moment when Bernstein is truly scary –demonstrating Rosario’s range, talent and skill.
Dogfight starts with an ugly premise, but it morphs into a bittersweet tale about ideals, love, and taking a chance on the unexpected. While its evocative of the 1960s, its themes still resonate in today’s world.
Note: This show contains strong language and mature content.
February 5 – March 6, 2016
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