Theater Review: "Dogfight" Off-Broadway
Based on the 1991 film of the same name, "Dogfight" follows Eddie Birdlace (Derek Klena), a Marine who is about to ship out to Vietnam. He and his buddies Bernstein (Nick Blaemire) and Boland (Josh Segarra), who comprise the "three Bs" (alliteration and onomatopoeia are big in the show), each wager $50 that he can bring the most repulsive girl to the dance. Boland enlists the help of a…worker of the oldest profession who has a set on nasty fake teeth (Annaleigh Ashford), while Birdlace happens across the slightly dowdy Rose (Lindsay Mendez). Seeing only her flaws at first, Birdlace offers to bring her to dance, and she is flattered by the male attention—but before long, Birdlace starts to fall for her, and questions how long he can keep the ruse up.
Mendez is positively incandescent as the fragile Rose (a much softer role than she has traditionally played, most noticeably in last season's "Godspell"), and is paired nicely with Klena's Birdlace, who is aptly caught in the crosshairs of everyone telling him how to be. The rest of the ensemble works well with what they're given, which includes the strong score—though the title song, of all things, is remarkably lackluster.
Unfortunately, the story that the show is telling is a hard pill to swallow. From the get-go, the three male leads are unlikable, and set themselves up to be judged by the audience—what kind of person willingly participates in such a mean-spirited competition, which is the focus of the first act? Oddly enough, though, the first act works better than the second act, in which the characters become more likable. While the latter half has some nice moments (Rose and Birdlace's date in particular comes to mind), it seems to drag on towards a predictable finish.
Among the technical elements of the show, the choreography, by Christopher Gattelli ("Newsies") is quite strong, while Fitz Patten's sound design is usually quite evocative, despite faltering at moments.
While the show is well-directed by Joe Mantello, and features a strong cast and some very pleasant songs, it seems to get in its own way, like a puppy tripping over its paws. Pasek and Paul, who also composed one of the quintessential contemporary musicals for young adults, "Edges: A Song Cycle," show a considerable amount of promise, as does the young talent involved with the show, but it seems that "Dogfight" still has some growing up to do.