‘Dogfight,’ a well staged musical, hasn’t dogs or planes

 

By Cynthia Citron

Cynthia Citron

LOS ANGELES — Well, they aren’t Stephen Sondheim—-yet.  But they could be—-in time.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the lyrics AND composed the music for Dogfight have just brought their rip-roaring, award-winning musical to L.A.  Lucky L.A.!
Adapted by Peter Duchan from a 1991 play by Bob Comfort, the musical premiered off-Broadway in 2012 and had its European premiere in London in 2014.  All to rave reviews!
The musical tells the story of three Marines on leave in San Francisco before leaving for Viet Nam.  They are Birdlace (Payson Lewis), Bernstein (Trent Mills), and Boland (Spencer Strong Smith) who are so bonded that they call themselves “The Three Bs” and each has had three bees tattooed on his forearms.  And, of course, they are on the prowl for women to take to dinner, and to bed, if they can.
The premise of this musical is similar to the 1949 musical film On the Town that starred Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin as three sailors looking for female companions who will spend the evening with them before they leave for World War II.  Only this musical, Dogfight, has a very different vibe.
In Dogfight the Marines, though relatively innocent, live in a more cynical time than the three jubilant sailors celebrating their last night ashore in New York.  And so the three Marines decide to compete in a dogfight, a term which in this instance means seeing who can bring the ugliest woman to dinner, as opposed to the actual meaning, which involves ferocious dogs or an aerial battle between fighter planes.
The Three Bs’ quest is backed up by a cast of 14 which includes a troop of Marines and an assortment of women.  Plus six musicians whose music is just about the best thing in the show.  And that’s saying a lot, since the acting, choreography, and singing voices of the players are all superb as well.
The musicians, led by music director Elmo Zapp, who plays bass, include Austin Farmer on drums, Megan Knapp on cello, Morgan Paros on violin, Steven Rader on keys, and Max Wagner on guitar.  They play beautifully innovative background music as well as the 15 songs that move the plot forward.
Each of the men finds a woman to bring to the contest, but Birdlace finds Rose (Nicci Claspell), an inexperienced, shy, and uncertain young woman, and he soon becomes ashamed of having brought her to such a humiliating contest.
But he expresses his confidence about withstanding the rigors of war—-after all, he has “13 weeks of training under my belt,” he tells Rose proudly.  It’s a different story, however, when the men get to Viet Nam and into a realistically staged battle that leaves many of them dead.
It’s an experience that will stay with the survivors for a very long time—-and with the audience as well. 
Semper fi!
Dogfight, presented by the After Hours Theatre, is directed by Jennifer Oundjian, who also supplied the lively choreography, and co-directed by Jennifer Strattan.  It can be seen Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm through June 25th at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.  For tickets, visit www.plays411.com/dogfight.
But hurry!  The play is playing to a packed house every night.

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Citron is a freelance writer specializing in coverage of the arts. She may be contacted via [email protected]

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