BWW Review: DOGFIGHT at Riksscenen, Oslo - Outstanding Musical With Tender And Heartfelt Performances
DOGFIGHT is a marvelous show. This intimate, carefully written musical had its Scandinavian Premiere on Monday night at Riksscenen in Oslo. It shows what musical theatre really can be in its truest form. You don't need huge scenery and big effects. It all depends on great material, strong performers and an inventive creative team. And this is indeed masterfully performed by a very strong ensemble.
Set on November 21, 1963 (the day before the assassination of John F. Kennedy), Eddie and his best friends Boland and Bernstein (The Three Bees) decide to spend their last night before deployment in a "dogfight": who can find the ugliest girl in town and bring her to a party where she will be judged? The marines enthusiastically jump into the cruel contest. But it's when Eddie asks out Rose Fenny, an awkward waitress who has never been on a date before that the the story finds its footing. An unlikely love story enfolds during the evening, told in a very linar form. Adapted from a 1991 film of the same name, Dogfight is a statement about the military culture of the 1960s and the inevitable realization that no one is invincible. But even with this knowledge, it is possible for each person to have a profound and positive impact on the world around them.
Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics), and Peter Duchan (book), while they were all in their 20s. The score is youthful and fresh, while at the same time paying tribute to the time period it is set in. There are also hints of Sondheim in the score, especially during "Nothing Short of Wonderful" and the title number "Dogfight".
This is swaggering, macho culture at its worst - one that dehumanises both women and the faceless enemy the marines are being dispatched to fight. Pasek, Paul and Duncan tries not make the marines out to be flat out villains though, nor target their behavior more than necessary since the marines themselves are a in a way also "victims" in this game, having lost their own ability to see what is right and wrong. They are too ignorant to see how awful this game really is. The music serves at times as a counterpoint to the unpleasantness. This is very evident in numbers such as "Hometown Hero's Ticker Tape Parade" where the marines fantasizes about how about how celebrated they will be on their return. It's upbeat and enjoyable, even though the we in the audience know this will not be the case for most of them (if any)
The entire ensemble is first rate. It is rare to witness this level of musicality. The score is especially demanding of the males in the scenes involving the marines. Lots of high notes and long intricate harmonies, which was a was a joy to listen to. In a recent interview with BroadwayWorld director Renate Stridh told that she postponed the production to have Sigurd Vespestad Marthinussen finish the extended run of the hit production "The Book of Mormon", and very fortunate that she did. His portrayal of the marine Eddie Birdlace is superb. His tenor voice is in a league of its own, and he really gets to show what a great actor he is. Marthinussen starts off as a rather unsympathetic and indifferent character, and yet he transcends to be more likeable as the show progresses. Benedicte Søreng as the waitress Rose was magical both acting and singing wise. She played the role with such warmth and heartfelt sincerity, and it was truly painful to witness her excitingly preparing for her first ever party, during "Nothing Short of Wonderful" and later her sadness during the act one finale "Pretty funny". Throughout all their scenes together Søreng and Marthinussen have a great interaction together, and each scene builds on the previous. They are genuine, honest and, at times, hilariously funny (especially during the restaurant scene).
Another standout performance comes from Tone Oline Knivsflå as the raunchy, toothless whore, Marcy. She has perfect comedic timing but is never over the top, as Marcy is a pretty sad character, doing these Dogfights to earn money. Her rendition of the title number "Dogfight" (in perfect harmony with Søreng) is one of the highlights during act one.
The supporting cast are all good. Special mentions to Endre Skattum's hard-wearing portrayal as Boland, the wannabe alpha male of the group of marines, and Bendik Hvoslef-Eide as the nerdy Bernstein. Their scene in the tattoo-parlor gives a very candid view of the many far too young and inexperienced boys being shipped off to Vietnam with practically no training. Not America's proudest hour in retrospect. Kim Helge Strømmen does a wide variety of roles during the evening, and he is especially good as the Lounge singer and waiter, during the restaurant scene
Renate Stridh shows yet again that you do not need a huge budget to produce truly great musical theatre. Her direction is straightforward and truthful. Likewise choreographer Miguel-Angel Fernandez have made a very effective musical staging that fits Stridh's direction very well. There is very little stage design, but the minimalistic arches of the Golden Gate bridge which is seen throughout is very effective. The orchestra sounds amazing under the musical direction of Peter Kragstad. They have kept the original orchestration, which is always pleasing. The translation, by Mathias Luppichini and Hilde Skappel, is very skillfully done and they manage to keep playfulness and honesty of Pasek & Paul's original lyrics.
That a show like this gets to performed on a Norwegian stage is fantastic, yet the same time it is sad that it is just a limited run of only five performances, so not many people will get the chance to see it. I urge everyone who loves good musical theatre to see this show, as this is a rare opportunity to see something different than your run of the mill musical . This should also be a note to the subsidized theatres, who have the means to produce smaller productions of foreign works. THIS is what we need to see more of in Norway. There are so many beautifully written non-commercial musicals that we never get to see, and especially not performed by such a talented cast of actors that have all specialized in musical theatre. Highly and warmly recommended!