Based on an obscure 1991 feature film,
The one thing that truly elevates this show from the pedestrian is Angharad Morgan in the role of Rose.
Set against a backdrop of 1960s San Francisco, a bunch of marines are on shore leave before deployment to Vietnam. These testosterone-fueled Jarheads have a cruel game to play – they must search the city for a date and whoever brings the ugliest girl to the party wins – and that’s the Dogfight. But for Eddie Birdlace, a chance encounter with homely waitress Rose challenges his chauvinism. Eddie, a naïve foul-mouthed soldier who’s convinced he’s going to be a “hometown hero” and Rose, idealistic and sweet natured with plans to join the Peace Corps. The pair are an unlikely match, but love finds a way.
Peter Duchan’s book is extremely clever. It avoids melodrama, focusing in on the emotions of the characters. We get a real sense of the arrogance of the marines and insecurity of Rose, juxtaposing these like Vietnam and Haight-Ashbury. Birdlace doesn’t get his happy-ever-after; it’s karma for the callousness that had come before.
Pasek and Paul’s score is sublime yet defies categorisation. Amongst the melodic ballads are dissonant Sondheim-esque numbers. But it’s a score that takes no prisoners in the higher registers where it often inhabits, and that exposes the weaknesses in this staging.
Gone Rogue have put on a serviceable version of the show. The enthusiastic cast generally get it right, but some of the nuance is missing. Sevan Keoshgerian as Birdlace has an admirable voice (save some tuning problems at the top), but his acting could benefit from less gurning and pointing. Sometimes the subtlety of the role eludes Keoshgerian, to the extent that a newbie could be forgiven for wondering what Birdlace’s motivation is. Robin Harris (Bernstein) and Ben Willcocks (Boland) provide decent support as Birdlace’s marine buddies and Anna Pinnell as the wily hooker Marcy does a fine job of scene-stealing.
But the one thing that truly elevates this show from the pedestrian is Angharad Morgan in the role of Rose. Bearing a striking resemblance both visually and vocally to Laura Jane Matthewson (who picked up the Evening Standard Emerging Talent Award last year for the same role in the Southwark Playhouse European premiere), Morgan is simply outstanding. She found the fragility and strength of Rose whilst being an excellent singer to boot. The fourth star is exclusively for her.