BWW Review: DOGFIGHT at Acting Against Cancer
Celeste Vonderschmitt (Rose) and Lauren McCombs (Marcy) in DOGFIGHT. Photo courtesy of Acting Against Cancer.
Book by Peter Duncan
Directed by Sydney Magers
Review by Taylor Clemons
Entire contents copyright are © 2019 by Taylor Clemons. All rights reserved.
With all honesty, I have been a very big fan of DOGFIGHT since it's premiere production Off-Broadway in 2012 at Second Stage. At the time it was the first major work of the songwriting duo Pasek and Paul. The show was their New York City premiere (shortly followed by another screen to stage adaptation A CHRISTMAS STORY), and it instantly put them on the radar of the musical theatre industry as a team to watch. Since then they've gone on to pin the scores for little known properties such as DEAR EVAN HANSEN, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, and the lyrics for LA LA LAND. Their rise to fame was swift, but in my opinion, DOGFIGHT is lightning in a bottle. It remains their most earnest and heartfelt piece of work. When I heard a local company was going to stage it, I was overjoyed by the prospect of this under loved musical making it's Louisville debut.
DOGFIGHT is based on an obscure film released in 1991 that starred River Phoenix and Lili Taylor. The story focuses on a group of Marines determined to enjoy their last night stateside before getting deployed to Vietnam. As others had done before them, they decide to honor the tradition of throwing a dogfight. A dogfight is a party in which all who take part contribute money into a pot, and the marine who brings the ugliest girl as their date wins the prize money. After docking in San Francisco, our main character Eddie Birdlace sets out to find his date. Just as he is running out of time he stumbles upon Rose Fenny working at a hole-in-the-wall family owned diner. Rose is by no means ugly, but is plain enough that Eddie takes his shot and invites her to the party. After some convincing she reluctantly agrees. As the night unfolds secrets come to light, and by the next morning, they will never be the same.
The cast is led by Andrew Bittenbinder as Eddie. He exudes a cool energy and has a wonderful singing voice. As the show progresses, this role really gives him a chance to show his range, and he takes it. He is matched by Celeste Vonderschmitt as Rose. She plays Rose sweet and demure. Her voice is quite lovely and she has some great chemistry with Bittenbinder as Eddie. Alex Hamilton and Alex Roby play Boland and Bernstein respectively. They are Eddie's closest friends in the corp, and also decide to take part in the dogfight. Roby is sweet and delightful as the geeky and very inexperienced Bernstein, while Hamilton plays Boland with a type of bad boy arrogance that really works for the character. Some of the best moments musically are when Bittenbinder, Roby, and Hamilton sing together. Their voices blend beautifully. Without giving too much away, the audience is treated to the delight that is Lauren McCombs' take on the character of Marcy. She easily steals every scene she's in and is easily one of the most memorable parts of the production, as she is perfectly cast.
I must also give a big shout out to the ensemble as well. Their voices fill out this score beautifully and give it the power it needs to since. I would also regret not pointing out the hilarious background acting provided by Shi Jordan, Hayley Amoss, Grace Greenwell, and Peighton Radlein during the party scenes towards the end of the first act, the audience was rolling.
Sydney Mager's direction is strong here. She staged the show in a black box, which is no easy task. There were flaws here and there, but on the whole she makes a strong debut with the company, and I can't wait to see how her talents grow. The set design was fairly basic and stationary, but it was also versatile and innovative in serving the show's needs as settings of the story quickly switch.
The show, simply put, is a feel everything musical. The way it examines human relationships, love, and loss are exceptionally moving. It's also worth noting that a lot of it is just downright hilarious, making the heavier and more grounded moments in the piece that much more impactful. It's my advice that you make a move and get your tickets now. The show has a short two weekend run, and I can only imagine the positive word of mouth that will be spreading after audiences feel the power of DOGFIGHT.
**Please note that show show includes sequences of intense warfare, and one moment of attempted rape.
Now - April 7, 2017
Acting Against Cancer at ArtSpace
323 W. Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202