BWW Review: A Winning Nicci Claspell Dominates This DOGFIGHT
DOGFIGHT/music & lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul/book by Peter Duchan/directed by Jennifer Oundjian & Jennifer Strattan/musical direction by Elmo Zapp/The Hudson Mainstage Theatre/thru June 25, 2017
With the names of Benj Pasek & Justin Paul (Oscar winners for La La Land and Tony Award frontrunners for this year's DEAR EVAN HANSEN) attached to DOGFIGHT, one might have high expectations while awaiting the opening notes to sound at The Hudson Mainstage. DOGFIGHT consistently scores with topnotch singing, dancing and musical accompaniment throughout.
Set in 1963 on the last night before three young Marines get shipped out to Vietnam, DOGFIGHT focuses on one of the more unsavory elements of male bonding - a dogfight, a contest in which the guy who brings the ugliest date wins (The unsuspecting gals aren't in on the 'joke.')
Nicci Claspell steals the entire show as Rose, the naive, sheltered waitress who's instantly smitten by Eddie Birdlace, one of the three deploying Marines. Claspell's powerful, yet angelic voice simply soars, from her plaintive notes in the opening number to her first solo "Nothing Short of Wonderful." Claspell effortlessly reveals the multi-layers of Rose's totally charming, undeniable vulnerability. Claspell nails her other two solos "Pretty Funny" and "Before It's Over," as well. She wonderfully duets with Emily Morris, as Marcy the hired ugly girl of the night in "Dogfight." Wonderful to hear these two women's well-matched vocal prowess in Marcy's schooling of Rose on the indelicacies of what exactly a dogfight is.
Payson Lewis' spot-on as the unsympathetic, sulking Eddie. Lewis grabs his moment in the spotlight with his powerful "Come Back" near the end.
The other two of this self-named "Three Bees" include Trent Mills as the "eager to lose his virginity" Bernstein and Spencer Strong Smith as the conniving, "not above cheating" Boland. Both men sing and dance quite well as the unlikeable recruits. As directed by Jennifer Oundjian and Jennifer Strattan, and/or as written by Peter Duchan, the three soldiers exhibit no redeeming qualities, save their sworn loyalty toward each other.
Oundjian's exuberant choreography receives sharp execution in the all-male "Some Kinda Time" number and in the partnering couples' "Hey Good Lookin'."
Peter Allen Vogt ably provides comic relief in a variety of supporting roles including a snotty maitre d' and an tone-deaf lounge singer. (Vogt's a tuneful singer who purposely sings off-key, which is so brave and hard to do!)
Others providing solid vocal and dancing support include: Stephanie Andersen, Austin Powell, Aliya Stuart, Nevada Brandt, Harrison Meloeny, Everjohn Feliciano, Emily Barnett, Erik Hall, and Jilli Marine.
Elmo Zapp (on bass) nimbly leads his effective backing orchestra of Austin Farmer on drums, Megan Knapp on cello, Morgan Paros on violin, Steven Rader on keys and Max Wagner on guitar.
Kudos to set designer Justin Ryan Brown for his versatile, multi-level functional set requiring minimal, but smoothly choreographed set piece changes.
Props to costume designer Julius Bronola and wig designer Ariana Castiglia for almost succeeding in uglying up Nicci Claspell - but not quite.