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BWW Review: Stray Dog Theatre's Touching and Affecting DOGFIGHT

I remember when the film version of DOGFIGHT was released, and how I was initially repelled by the very concept of it, but then I saw the film, and I understood. You'll understand even more when you take in Stray Dog Theatre's local premiere presentation of the musical version of DOGFIGHT, and it's a show you absolutely must see! This is truly a revelatory experience, with a smart book by Peter Duchan, and wonderfully arranged music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. It's a cool score that lifts the action in an even more affecting manner than the movie does. It's the intimacy we experience when we see something live unfold before our eyes. This is a truly wondrous production that will move you, and that's what theatre is all about.

OK, so the basic concept is that a group of soldiers, circa November 1963, are in San Francisco waiting to ship out the next day. They decide to wager on who can bring the "ugliest" girl to the party they're having that night. It's a terrible idea, and it goes pretty much as you'd expect, but a relationship develops between a young, folk-singing waitress named Rose Fenny, and a macho, stereotypically gung-ho, young soldier, Eddie Birdlace. He regrets his decision and, well, the rest is sadly sweet and, ultimately, powerful stuff to think about as you leave the theatre and drive into the night.

Shannon Cothran does marvelous work as Rose, imbuing her natural shyness and skepticism with her smoldering desire to experience life, especially when the opportunity with Eddie suddenly presents itself. It's a joy to watch her excitedly sing "Nothing Short of Wonderful", even when you know what's coming. Brendan Ochs is terrific as Eddie, and even though he curses and swaggers when he's out with his buddies, you can see his tender side sneaking through in his encounters with Rose, and their lovely work together on "First Date, Last Night" is superbly done. Ochs is joined by the other "B's"; a strong perfomance by Luke Steingruby as Boland, and fine work by Kevin O'Brien as the ever-horny, and perpetually unsure, Bernstein. Both give off that "buddy vibe" that makes their friendship seem all the more genuine.

Sara Rae Womack is devastating as Marcy, the gal who actually wins the contest, and then clues Rose in on all the sordid details. The goofy but great Jason Meyers takes on variety of roles with considerable aplomb, and it's always a delight to see his perform. Jenni Ryan also does a number of parts, lending an understanding depth to Mama, and a sort of world-weariness to Chippy. The supporting cast is equally deserving of mention and includes: Kevin O'Brien, Mike Hodges, Sean Michael, Ethan Isaac, Melinda Kozak, and Tracey Herweck.

Justin Been's direction is as sharp as ever, and you get a real sense of who these characters are, and the emotions they're feeling, from every single cast member. The action is briskly executed, and so are the scene transitions, which keeps this show flowing along at a very nice rhythm. Choreographer Zachary Stefniak's work is also integrated into the show in a way that makes it seem organic in nature. Tyler Duenow's lighting scheme is very well thought out, and definitely sets the mood of each scene, or musical number, in dramatic fashion. Gary Bell's costumes fit right in with the era, and musical director/pianist Chris Petersen does an excellent job with this gorgeous score, leading a band that includes: M. Kuba (cello), M. Joshua Ryan (bass), Adam Rugo (guitar), Lliam Christy (guitar on certain dates), Bob McMahon (percussion), Joe Winters (percussion on certain dates), and Steve Frisbee (violin).

My advice is that you definitely check out Stray Dog Theatre's current production of DOGFIGHT, which is playing at the Tower Grove Abbey through October 24, 2015. It's a surprisingly engaging and tuneful look at a bygone, but long-remembered, era that manages to touch the heart and soul of those who see it.


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From This Author Chris Gibson