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Review: DOGFIGHT at St. Jude's Hall, Brighton

Review: DOGFIGHT at St. Jude's Hall, Brighton

An unusual love story.

Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Thursday 4th August 2022.

Do you remember On The Town, that wonderful musical film from 1949; three young sailors on shore leave on the loose in New York, singing and dancing through life, and meeting girls? Well, Dogfight, presented by St Jude's Players, is a bit like that, but just a bit. It's a dark reflection on men and women, the traditional battle of the sexes cast in the most unromantic and misogynist mould.

The three young men are marines. Straight out of basic training they are one night away from Vietnam. They're mates, the three brought together because they have surnames starting with B; Birdlace, Boland, and Bernstein. They have bees tattooed on their arms.

The Dogfight they are looking forward to is not an aerial battle. The men of the company put money into a pot. There's a dance planned before departure. The twist is that each marine competes to bring the least attractive date, the dog. Eddie Birdlace persuades Rose, a shy songwriter he meets in a diner, to be his date but, as the dance looms, his conscience kicks in.

Bob Comfort's original story, adapted by Peter Buchan, with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, is confronting but in musical theatre, as in life, love can flourish in the dirtiest soil. It's told in flashback as Eddie Birdlace, back from four years in 'nam, heads into town. You just know that he's the only one of the three bees to make it back. You are also not surprised that Rose is waiting for him. Gus Robson is Eddie Birdlace, communicating the gap between his natural self and the imposed and imposing Marine machismo, winning sympathy. Simon Barnett and Steve Lewis, as Boland and Bernstein, provide strong support, dramatically and, especially, musically. There are some vocally thrilling moments when they belt out their top notes.

Ruby Pinkerton is Rose, the waitress in the café run by her mother. She writes songs, plays guitar, and loves Pete Seeger. Indeed, in the score, her music represents the folk roots of the anti-war movement of the last decades of the 20th century. She and Robson are exquisitely paired. The other standout among the women is Sarah Whalen as Marcy, the prostitute with the heart of brass, hired to be the doggiest of the dogs. She and Rose may not be sisters under the skin, but they both transcend cliché.

I've always had the highest admiration for Brian Godfrey as an actor and critic, but his direction of Dogfight is outstanding. Jethro Pidd is the movement coach for the fights and the dances. Ben Stefanoff and his small band are on stage. His communication with his singers is exemplary. Pasek and Paul have a very distinctive vocal style that would have challenged the singers but they are fine.

Ben Stefanoff is also credited with stage design. One thing I've always admired about St Jude's productions is the excellent way their plays are set on a stage with, I suspect, limited wing access, effectively lit and managed.

Watching the show I thought how appropriate it would be for the Music Theatre students at the Elder Conservatorium. A friend in the know told me that it's been on the course wish list for some time. They are just waiting for the right three guys to turn up. St Jude's Players decided that they had the right stuff and went along with it.

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From This Author - Barry Lenny


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