Dogfight

Danielle Tarento has done it again – this time in the guise of a European première of the 2012 award winning American musical Dogfight.

As ever Tarento has assembled yet another winning team of cast and creatives

Based on the 1991 feature film of the same name, Dogfight tells an intimate, tender and inevitably heartbreaking story of identity, fear, compassion and growth. During shore leave in San Francisco one night, there’s a Marine party happening – and we get the impression it’s somewhat of a tradition. The Jarheads each put their money in the pot and then find the ugliest girl they can as their date – and that’s the Dogfight. Winner takes the pot. Centring on Eddie, a basic trained, arrogance-fuelled Marine awaiting deployment and Rose, an undesired, plain waitress who’s idealistic in a broken and confused world. Set against a juxtaposition of the Vietnam War and the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, it is an touching tale of non-judgement. What sets Dogfight apart from this age old story is its beautiful simplicity and heartfelt humanity.

Peter Duchan’s book is clean, precise and precious. The story unfolds with great ease and keeps you focused on the matter in hand. What struck me is his cleverness not to make a dramatic meal of the Dogfight itself but more to the emotions that it evoked. Subtly underplaying what could be cod all-American musical drama and drawing our attention to the cogs ticking over inside the central characters. This then delightfully and pleasingly intertwines with the score and the inevitable, most welcoming musical moments.

And how refreshing they are. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have provided the perfect and most delicate musical accompaniment. Both credited for music and lyrics, they manage to smoothly direct and indulge your attention with melodic joy. Nothing is out of place here, although there is not much in the way of depicting the era, it doesn’t matter. What they have cleverly delivered is a satisfying world of its own. The understated spirit in which they have described is simplistic, earnest and trustworthy.

As ever Tarento has assembled yet another winning team of cast and creatives, this time around with Matt Ryan in the director’s chair. His careful handling of the intimacy is commendable and the proceedings unfold in regimented fashion. The decision to explore the slightly darker sides of this story, give the rendition a much edgier and welcomed feel. A cracking set design and build by Lee Newby – the huge construction of the Golden Gate bridge works boldly as a statement piece.

With a perfect cast everything is delivered to the millimetre. The talent that Tarento assembles to each of her productions is so joyous and invigorating – this one truly is deserved of the full standing ovation it received. We must take a moment though to discus, applaud and generally bow down in honour to the wonderment that is Laura Jane Mathewson, whom I hear, Tarento accidently stumbled upon one night at the Phoenix Artiste bar. A star is born in the role of Rose, this young lady oozes talent with great demur, her vocal gleefully glides like a swan upon a lake of majestic musical myrrh.

Dogfight is an extraordinary production and delivers everything you would expect and more. Its slightly gutting that it wasn’t born here in the UK first, under Tarento’s watch. Definitely not to be missed, a unique and deserving musical to be experienced by all. A sturdy notch in the Southwark Playhouse and Tarento collaborative bedpost.

Reviews by Stuart Saint

Charing Cross Theatre

Death Takes A Holiday

★★★
Southwark Playhouse

Grey Gardens

★★★★★
Southwark Playhouse

Grand Hotel

★★★★★
Southwark Playhouse

Gods And Monsters

★★★★★
Southwark Playhouse

Dogfight

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon

Wendy Wason: Hotel California

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

A new book musical based on the 1991 movie of the same name starring River Phoenix, and Lili Taylor, DOGFIGHT premièred Off-Broadway in 2012, winning the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical and it was also nominated for five Outer Critics Circle and two Drama Desk Awards. It will be directed by Matt Ryan.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Music & Lyrics) have been a composing team since meeting in college. In 2007 they were the youngest ever recipients of the Jonathan Larson Award - named after the late Rent composer - that honours achievement by composers, lyricists and librettists. Pasek and Paul (as they are affectionately known) made their Broadway debut last year with A Christmas Story, which received three Tony Award nominations for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score, and six Drama Desk Award nominations including Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Music. Their other stage musicals include Edges and James and the Giant Peach. They composed several original songs for the second season of the Broadway TV drama, Smash.