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Review Roundup: Second Stage's DOGFIGHT

Second Stage Theatre presents the world premiere musical, DOGFIGHT, which just opeed last night, July 16. Featuring music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, a book by Peter Duchan, and choreography by Tony winner Christopher Gattelli, the show is directed by two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello and runs at Second Stage's Tony Kiser Theatre.

It's November 21, 1963. On the eve of their deployment to a small but growing conflict in Southeast Asia, three young Marines set out for one final boys' night of debauchery, partying, and maybe a little trouble. But when Corporal Eddie Birdlace (Derek Klena) meets Rose (Lindsay Mendez), an awkward and idealistic waitress he enlists to win a cruel bet with his fellow recruits, she rewrites the rules of the game and teaches him the power of compassion.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, New York Times: For a show with a snarling title, "Dogfight" is surprisingly docile. This intimate, carefully tended new musical, which opened on Monday night at Second Stage Theater, takes on some of the nastier aspects of rowdy young servicemen stewing in testosterone, including a woman-humiliating ritual that gives the work its name. Yet even when its boys behave badly - really badly - "Dogfight" proceeds in a melancholy, tuneful and slightly hesitant trickle that seems to be apologizing for any unpleasantness.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: If there's a clue that the twenty-something creators are on to something in this 296-seat off-Broadway theater, it's in the rest of the veteran creative team: Joe Mantello, a two-time Tony Award winner, is directing, and Christopher Gatelli, who just won a Tony for ''Newsies,'' is choreographing. David Zinn is in charge of sets and costume, fresh off Broadway's ''Seminar,'' ''Other Desert Cities'' and ''Good People.''

Thom Greier, Entertainmet WeeklyThe overall production offers similarly jarring juxtapositions. Peter Duchan's book is generally faithful to the period, except when it strays into some glaring anachronisms like a punchline about a character named Vector ('Vector? I hardly knew her'). Birdlace's fellow Marines are macho and often mean-spirited (there's a brothel-set scene that borders on date rape), but such displays of jacked-up masculinity are undermined by Christopher Gattelli's overly fussy choreography. Joe Mantello directs with a mostly straightforward naturalism, except when he stoops to bits of broader comedy. Dierdre Friel gets some laughs as a dogfight contestant who's a dead ringer for SNL's Bobby Moynihan, but her mugging belongs to a different show.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Post: The musical's biggest issue is that the creators haven't solved the big obstacle: Circumstances that bring Eddie and Rose together are repulsive. On their last night in S.F., "jarheads" bet on who can bring the ugliest date to a dance - hence the title. Ick.

Daid Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: The early establishing songs here by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are tuneful and engaging, choreographed with verve by Christopher Gattelli, fresh from his Tony win for Newsies. But there's a worrying sense of guys-will-be-guys indulgence. The writers seem uncertain about how to balance the comedy with the inhumanity of the Marines' behavior toward their frumpy dates. While the first act is musically the strongest, it could nonetheless use a few darker brushstrokes.

Linda Winer, Newsday: The musical introduces a strong young cast -- especially Lindsay Mendez and Derek Klena -- that juggles toughness and innocence as if this were easy. And very good news is the songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, making their professional New York debut with a project that won them the 2011 Richard Rodgers Studio Production Award.

Michael Musto, Village Voice: Alas, the score is too jangly and faux-Sondheimish at times, and the result, despite tender care and professionalism, doesn't make an argument for the fact that Dogfight screamed out to be musicalized.

Philip Boroff, BusinessweekBenj Pasek and Justin Paul's stylistically eclectic score is firmly in the post-Sondheim tradition. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli, who won a Tony Award last month for "Newsies," nicely adapts military moves for dance. He and director Joe Mantello ("Wicked") make efficient use of the revolving round stage as set and costume designer David Zinn transforms it from a nightclub to ladies room to tattoo parlor.

Andy Probst, Huffington Post: Mendez's ability to deliver this tune and the others is perfectly matched by the ways in which she tenderly navigates Rose's rough trajectory. Throughout, she brings the perfect combination of desperation, vulnerability and steely strength to the stage, and once Rose has realized the reason that Eddie has unexpectedly asked her out, the sense of empowerment - and deep disappointment - that Mendez communicates astonishes.


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