Dogfight. Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Book by Peter Buchand. Based on the 1991 film by Warner Bros. with screen play by Bob Comfort.
Directed by Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts. Musical director/conductor Caleb Campbell. Orchestrra Caleb Campbell Keys,Elisha Adams Violin, Jessica Coote, Enola Jefferis Cello, Hayley Manning Bass, Dylan Slater Guitar, Brandon Reed Drums . Choreographer Nathan Rutups Costume design Jenny Norberry. Lighting design Craig Mullar and Grant Pegg. Sound design James McPherson. Set Design Chris Zuber. Dramatic Productions Gungahlin College Theatre. January 27 – February 4 2023. Bookings: www.stagecenta.com
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Dramatic Productions has done it again. Having recently wowed audiences with their outstanding production of School of Rock, the company has taken musical theatre in Canberra to even higher heights with their current production of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s Dogfight. Directors Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts have collaborated once again to create a show that is superbly staged, crisply choreographed and with musical direction that is evocative and powerfully expressive. With a cast that would be as much at home on an off Broadway stage as it is on the Gungahlin Theatre stage, Dogfight is superbly acted and brilliantly sung by a company of performers who affirm once again the phenomenal musical theatre talent in Canberra in a production that is not to be missed.
|The Marines in Dogfight|
Dogfight is a bitter-sweet adaptation of Nancy Savoca’s 1991 film Dogfight. The first act follows the lives of three testosterone fuelled larrikin buddies, the more sensitive Eddie Birdlace ( a beautifully nuanced performance by Alexander Clubb), Boland, played with aggressive machoism by Will Collett and the inexperienced sex hungry Bernstein (played with just the right degree of lapdog naivety by Grayson Woodham) living it up before being despatched to the war in Vietnam. Boland sets a challenge for each to find the ugliest woman to take to the dogfight competition of the ugliest woman on the dancefloor. Boland hires prostitute Marcy (Kit Berry). Bernstein picks up plain Ruth and Birdlace discovers diner waitress and would be musician Rose (unforgettably played and sung with utterly engaging conviction by Taylor Paliaga). Act 1 sets up the complicated love story between Eddie and Rose, in which innocence and indiscretion feed the polarising forces of Eddie’s thoughtless participation in the dogfight and Rose’s hurtful betrayal.
Act 1 introduces us to a world of naïve innocence, of youthful impetuousness and the first flush of awkward love. Directors Pegg and Roberts have staged it with impeccable authenticity and meticulous attention to sentiment and style. The Ensemble provides a backdrop to the action, atmospherically choreographed by Nathan Rutups, who once again enables emotion and character to drive the intelligent and appropriate choreography of the piece with the excellent support and collaboration of musical director Caleb Campbell and his small orchestra.
|Alexander Clubb, Charlotte Gearside and Taylor Paliaga in Dogfight|
Act 2 packs a crueller punch. The confident belief that a 13 week training and a gun will ensure safety in the combat zone is shattered by the grim and deadly reality of war. In a combat scene, choreographed with heart stopping reality by Rutups and lit with the full impact of jungle warfare by Craig Mullar and Grant Pegg the horrible impact of the Vietnam conflict is captured by the magnificent collaborative talent of the direction, the choreography, the lighting and set design and the orchestration. Redgum’s iconic lament I was only 19 echoes hauntingly in my mind. This is a moment that encapsulates the perfection of the ensemble and theatricality. It is a scene that epitomizes the professionalism of the production company, cast and creatives.
It is natural to focus on the performances of the Three Bees as the mates are known and Rose as the central love interest, but this is a production in which every participant deserves a plaudit. There are some terrific cameo performances, namely Pippin Carroll’s dual roles as the smooth and somewhat sleazy lounge singer and the cigarette sucking tattooist and Charlotte Gearside’s officious glorified maître d'. Rachel Seo’s graceful ballet movements contrast with the marines’ foot stomping rendition of Some Kinda Time.
|Kit Berry,Will Collett.Alexander Clubb, Taylor Paliaga in Dogfight|
In a production as seamless and thought-provoking as this, it is not possible not to be moved or confronted by the impact of youthful naivety, of unconsidered consequence, of love’s turbulent trials or the horrors of a politician’s war. The ghosts of a futile war may still be heard in the haunting and powerfully moving Hometown Hero’s Ticker Tape Parade. The disgrace, the shame and the damage still resonate in Birdlace’s return to the arms of Rose and the pathos in Pasek’s and Paul’s music and lyrics and Buchan’s book.
Dramatic Productions’ Dogfight will linger long after the rapturously applauded curtain call. Heart warming, heart stopping and heart stirring, this is a musical that deserves a far longer season than an amateur company with undeniable professional production values can afford. Newly formed Heartstrings Theatre Company, after a critically acclaimed season in Canberra has been receiving rave reviews at Hayes Theatre in Sydney. Dogfight would be an ideal choice to follow in Heartstrings’ footsteps. It is a crying shame that productions of such quality must suffer too short a season. Canberra audiences deserve better!.
CAST: Alexander Clubb, Taylor Paliaga, Will Collett, Grayson Woodham, Kit Berry,Kirrily Cornwell, Pippin Carroll, Liam Downing, Luke Ferdinands, Charlotte Gearside, Kara Murphy, Rachel Seo, Frank Shanahan, Rachel Thornton
Photos by Janelle McMenamin