Dogfight is a hard show to get right and Doorstep Arts’ presentation just misses the mark.
Image: Alexander Woodward and Olivia Charalambous in Dogfight; image courtesy Doorstep Arts.
Dogfight is a difficult show to like. The majority of the characters are unpleasant, their actions deplorable and the central plot device is inherently misogynistic. This musical is based off a rather obscure film from the early 90’s starring River Phoenix and it’s a strange choice for musical adaptation.
On the eve of their departure to Vietnam in 1963, a group of marines enjoy a last night of freedom in the streets of San Francisco, drinking, joking and letting off steam before heading into the unknown. The title of the show refers to a cruel betting game the young men play in which whoever finds the ‘ugliest’ date to bring to the dance wins a pot of money. Confident Eddie (Alexander Woodward) invites thoughtful aspiring songwriter Rose (Olivia Charalambous) and the unlikely pair form a special bond (of sorts). The timeframe jumps around a bit as we see Eddie reflecting on the fateful night at the top of the show before returning emotionally scarred from his time at war during the final scenes.
Dogfight is frustrating and unattractive. Frustrating because the score by talented composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul is fantastic, full of gorgeous contemporary solos and inventive harmonies for the chorus numbers, and unattractive because of the storyline. The book by Peter Duchan is problematic in that we see these entitled young men talk and treat the female characters in an appallingly derogatory manner. There are lines thrown around about the ingrained culture of misogyny, something along the lines of 'we’re just doing what our dad’s were doing,' and Eddie does feebly stop a potential rape of a prostitute, but you never really buy into the fact that he truly respects Rose and he never fully condemns his friends’ behavior. It’s rather ugly stuff and unfortunately this production is pretty unattractive too.
The set consists of a couple of benches and chairs, which would have sufficed, however the production team decided to also include a large badly made window frame on wheels and an equally shoddy looking replica of the Golden Gate Bridge above the stage. The black curtains that run along the back of the theatre space are left exposed. The overall design gives the production the rather pedestrian look of a high school show.
There are some wonderful elements in Doorstep Arts’ Dogfight. The two leads, Woodward and Charalambous, are fantastic. Both performers sing beautifully, Woodward captures Eddie’s pent-up energy and angst admirably and Charalambous’ portrayal of Rose is gentle and courageous. Jaclyn Devincentis plays ballsy prostitute Marcy with sidesplitting humor and her duet with Charalambous on the title song is a musical highlight. The ensemble of marines creates a glorious sound during their songs, thanks to the accomplished musical direction of Trevor Jones, and they dance Leanne Marsland’s inventive yet intermittent choreography with energy and skill.
Dogfight is a hard show to get right and Doorstep Arts’ presentation just misses the mark. In the right hands the aforementioned issues with the book and characters could have been overcome, but this production doesn’t quite get there. Still there is some pleasure to be had watching the talented young cast tackle the unpleasant material head on and sing the outstanding score so well.
Rating: 2 Stars out of 5
Presented by Doorstep Arts
Music & Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Book by Peter Duchan
Directed by Darylin Raymondo
Musical Direction by Trevor Jones
With Sally Bourne, Tim Carney, Olivia Charalambous, James Coley, Daniel Cosgrove, Jaclyn Devincentis, Zoy Frangos, Joel Granger, Hannah McInerney, Jack Van Staveren and Alexander Woodward
Chapel Off Chapel
5 – 15 May 2016
First published on