Before The Greatest Showman, before Dear Evan Hansen and even before La La Land, composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote Dogfight, based on the 1991 film of the same name, about a group of marines on their last night on the town in San Francisco in 1963 before being shipped out to Vietnam. Their songs paired with a book by Peter Duchan resulted in the creation of Dogfight the musical, which is currently being performed in an amateur production by London’s Stock Exchange Dramatic and Operatic Society (SEDOS).
Dogfight tells the story of Eddie Birdlace (Joe McWilliam) and his attempt to woo Rose Fenny (Lauren Clarke), a waitress, in a ploy by his marine unit to bring the ugliest date they can find to a party, known as a “dogfight”, in a “friendly” competition to win cash. The soiree’s hidden agenda comes to light and Eddie has to fight to win Rose’s forgiveness over the course of his final night in town.
Unfortunately the show had to be stopped mid-first act due to a loss of control power to the sound and lighting desk. While the show was up and running again after several minutes and the cast dealt with the sudden change in events quite well, it took a while to establish what had happened which could have been better communicated by production staff.
McWilliam and his fellow male cast mates demonstrated convincing laddish cameraderie on stage together. Clarke played Rose with a sweet vulnerability and when confrontational scenes called for some gusto, she delivered, especially during her spunky duet with Kate Gledhill which was a highlight. I was not expecting her extremely vulnerable ‘Pretty Funny’ to be the eleven o’clock number before the interval instead of Birdlace and his unit heading out on duty. Very little of the boys’ time away was covered in the second act which could have been explored further but this may have been omitted by the writers to focus more on Eddie and Rose’s relationship. The two leads effectively portrayed the awkwardness of their characters’ first date in ‘First Date/Last Night’. The SEDOS cast overall coped for the most part with Pasek and Paul’s multi-layered harmonies as did the band, led by Will Sharma, with the intricate orchestration.
Dogfight is a charming yet gritty show about many shades of the human experience, from jubilant banter with friends, to romantic rejection, to the harsh reality of war. The score sounds less like the pop sound of Pasek and Paul’s more recent work and has gained a large fan following beyond its short off-Broadway run in 2012 thanks to it being well documented online. Having listened to the cast recording for a few years, I enjoyed getting to see the work presented in full at the Bridewell Theatre.
Review by Fiona Scott
Before creating the Tony-winning sensation Dear Evan Hansen, writers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul delivered the heartbreaking and beautiful musical, Dogfight. This emotional journey depicts the blissful ignorance of youth, compassion in the face of cruelty and the ability to find true inner strength and acceptance despite the brutality of life and war.
Dogfight is set in San Francisco on November 21, 1963, on the eve of the Kennedy assassination. The majority of the show takes place in the final hours of an age of American innocence that will quickly dissipate. This innocence is depicted by a group of young Marines who set out for one final boys’ night of debauchery: booze, tattoos and the dogfight.
The rules of the dogfight are simple and cruel: each marine pays in $50, and the marine with the ugliest date wins. But, when one of these Marines, Eddie Birdlace, meets Rose, an awkward and idealistic waitress whom he invites to join him that night, she rewrites the rules of the game and teaches him the power of love and kindness.
Based on the 1991 movie of the same name starring River Phoenix, Dogfight premièred Off-Broadway in 2012, when it won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical and was nominated for 5 Outer Critics Circle and 2 Drama Desk Awards.
EDDIE BIRDLACE | Joe McWilliam
ROSE FENNY | Lauren Clarke
BOLAND | Luke James Leahy
MARCY | Kate Gledhill
BERNSTEIN | Nick Dore
LOUNGE SINGER | Dan Saunders
MALE SUPPORTING CAST | Chris Foxwell, Adrian Hau, Matt Morden and Josh Yeardley
FEMALE SUPPORTING CAST | Laura Ellis, Sarah Johnson, Charlotte Levy, Louise Roberts and Penny Rodie
DIRECTORS | Zoë Dobell and Peter Shimmin
MUSICAL DIRECTOR | Will Sharma
PRODUCER | Rebecca Chisholm
COMMITTEE LIAISON | Deborah Lean
DOGFIGHT the musical
Music and lyrics | BENJ PASEK and JUSTIN PAUL
Book | PETER DUCHAN
Based on the Warner Bros. film and screenplay by BOB COMFORT
BRIDEWELL THEATRE | 6-10 March 2018
Bride Lane Fleet Street
London, EC4Y 8EQ