Dogfight The Musical, based on the 1991 film Dogfight has had some success as an off-Broadway show in the USA and an outing at London's Southwark Theatre in 2014.
Pasek and Paul, who later found a greater success with Dear Evan Hansen, have created a musical which is at the very least interesting, tuneful and entertaining if not, perhaps, a big hit, as it is quite limited in the scope of its story and music.
The dogfight of the title takes its name from a contest between some callow young US Marines who are about to leave for Vietnam the day before Kennedy's assasination in November 1963. On their last night in San Francisco they each put $50 into the pot with a challenge to get a date with the ugliest girl - and the winning Marine takes all.
Eddie Birdlace takes Rose, a girl who works in a diner, to the Marines' party where, shocked to find the true purpose of their date, she storms off. Eddie catches up with her and she falls in love with his true character.
They spend the night together - a significant night for both of them since they were both virgins. Eddie leaves with her address but confronted by Boland, the leader of the three bees (Boland, Birdlace and Bernstein), tears it up.
The end of the play, like the start, is set in 1967. Eddie, having been exposed to the full horror of what had developed into a terrible war, is a broken man. Returning to San Francisco he seeks out Rose.
I love the story of Eddie and Rose. Eddie is full of youthful bravado but in reality niave and unsure of himself. Rosie is a rather shy, homely girl who works with her mother. That said, she is a musician and a peace movement supporter whose hero is the socialist songwriter Woody Guthrie.
Joe McWilliam plays Eddie Birdlace with great skill and confidence. The role requires a good deal of swagger but this is balanced by a degree of confliction and uncertainty and, in the final scene, despair. This is combined with some nice comic timing and a good vocal presence. Lauren Clarke's portrayal of Rose Fenny is superb. She has a lovely singing voice and is totally convincing as the thoughtful and forgiving Rose.
Fine performances by Luke James Leahy as the thuggish and bullying Boland and Nick Dore as the anxious virgin Bernstein are very well supplemented by Adrian Hau, Chris Foxwell, Matt Morden and Joshua Yeardley as the other 'Boys' who are all trying very hard to show the world that they are men. Dan Saunders gives superb value in his multiple roles.
Apart from Rose the only other significant female role is that of Marcy. Marcy is a prostitute, hired by Boland in order to ensure his victory in the dogfight. Kate Gledhill impresses greatly as the world weary/worldly wise woman who is more than capable of putting the braggart Boland in his place. Making the most of the other female roles in the piece are Laura Ellis, Sarah Johnson, Charlotte Levy, Louisa Roberts and Penny Rodie.
The music in this show is most enjoyable, with shades of Jason Robert Brown, Duncan Sheik and (a little) Stephen Sondheim, presented by MD Will Sharma and an excellent band. But - and I understand this is entirely subjective - I find myself disappointed that on occasion the band's volume somewhat overshadows the singing. I know this is a common complaint, even in professional shows, but it seems such a shame that this is not picked up by the production team. (I sat several rows back to try to avoid this.)
A very adaptable set is complemented by a good lighting plan - the battle scene is very effective.
SEDOS are to be commended for giving us the chance to see such a good production of Dogfight The Musical. Catch it if you can!