Stage 62’s production of Dogfight is emotionally engrossing and full of wonder. Replete with reminiscence, both charming and heavyhearted this Pittsburgh premiere is certain to become the most talked about musical performance this spring. If Stage 62 has been on your list of companies to check out, now is the time. Dogfight should not be missed.
Dogfight is based on the 1991 film of the same name, starring River Phoenix. The story begins and ends in 1967, but primarily takes place, through a series of flashbacks, on the cusp of one of America’s greatest cultural and social shifts in perception; November 21, 1963. U.S. Marines Birdlace, (Adam Speers) Boland, (Ryan Hadbavny) and Bernstein, (Michael Tarasovich) aka, the 3 Bee’s, prepare to deploy, for a tiny south Asian country, Vietnam. The Marines plan a party their last night stateside; a dogfight. Each soldier pitches in $50.00 and the guy with the ugliest date wins the pot. In 2 acts, the musical tells this story, but Dogfight is so much more.
The story revolves around chauvinism and patriarchy. Eric Birdlace a macho machine, militarily programmed, “Do or Die, Semper Fi”, meets a folksy and awkward, but mindful, Rose (Kristin Welch) working in a diner. He targets her as his ‘date’ for the ‘party’. Her apprehension quickly melts away, and girlish giddiness ensues. Ultimately, the date doesn’t end well. Rose discovers Birdlace’s intentions and her role in the game. She is pained and ashamed. Despite Birdlace’s heartless behavior, he feels remorseful. As the show enters act 2 it begins to transform from rugged to chronicling a redemptive and softer piece of humanity. Birdlace leaves the company of his buddies to find Rose. Driven by an inexplicable desire to make amends, a milder mannered Birdlace invites her on a real date. Still hurt by his shameless behavior, but feeling strangely drawn to the soldier Rose agrees to a dinner date. The story turns course traverses on a path of personal growth for both Birdlace and Rose. [the_ad id=”6914″]
Dogfight’s score is composed by musical masterminds, Pasek and Paul. Their composition captures the sentimentality of the era using influences by artists like The Four Seasons and as an enhancement to Rose’s dream of becoming a folk singer, Woody Guthrie and Joan Baez. The lyrics are sharp and poignant. The words grasp the time period and a youthful spirit. Musical highlights include, “Some Kinda Time”, performed by the Marines. The songs lyrics, “Some kinda time, Livin’ it large Makin’ noise because the boys are now in charge” and “So long to waffle cones, new Twilight Zones and Lesley Gore Farewell to Chevrolets, to Willie Mays, the corner store”, expose the vulnerability of these young men on the eve of deployment. The high energy, and heavily rock n roll influenced number, “Hey Good Lookin”, despite its’ virility as a tuneful ‘catcall’, is catchy and toe- tapping worthy. Aside, from the casts effortless harmonizing, these two numbers, in particular, are accompanied by fun and clever choreography, directed by Cara Walkowiak.
“Nothing Short of Wonderful” is an opportunity for the audience to hear Welch’s melodiously mellow vocals. “Pretty Funny”’s lyrics are haunting and intimate. Rose is wise beyond her time and Welch’s voice, light and lilting, reflects her gentle and idealistic character. “First Date/ Last Night”, a duet between Birdlace and Rose, hands down, steals the show. The song illustrates a tenderness and longing for affection. Speers and Welch’s performance is awesome. Their stage presence is golden. Together they create a space for purity in a tarnished world, even if just for a few hours. Finally, I must pay homage to Speers’ rendition of a broken vet returning home. In, “Come Back”, he stands on stage, electrified in pain. I feel in my gut, each note as it’s belted out into the darkness.
The entire Dogfight cast is engaging and fresh. Besides the headliners, Welch, and The 3 Bee’s; Speers, Hadbavny and Tarasovich, there is Ashley Harmon who portrays Marcy, a toothless and ruthless prostitute. Her impressive duet with Rose, in the musical number, “Dogfight” reflects a deeper understanding of power, which she uses to develop and invoke her character, in a gorgeous green dress, nonetheless. Jeff Way, cast as several different characters, won my affection as a crooning lounge singer, alongside Hadbavny, Tarasovich and Sam Viggiano, in, “That Face”. In addition to the cast, Rob James’ stage direction is top notch. The stunning war sequence is like nothing I have ever seen portrayed live on stage before.
Dogfight is a serious show. The look- back isn’t cheap or cheesy. The treatment of vets returning home from war, the remembrance of those who never made it back, the rise of the feminist movement are unearthed from the historical vault in a brutally openhearted string of events then delicately balanced against the backdrop of candid lyrics and a stellar cast. The audience is touched by the trauma of the time. Dogfight is genius. The characters hurt and heal and grow and hurt again. There are gut-wrenching sequences disguised by glorious melodies and dramatic harmonies. As a piece of nostalgia, every moment of painful truth is followed by a ray of hope. Not a definitively happy ending, but yes, there is hope.
Stage 62’s Dogfight runs next weekend, May 17- 20 at Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie. For tickets and more information click here.
Photos courtesy of Image 42
Categories: Archived Reviews