Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Spotlight Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Masters of the Musical Theater with Hugh Panaro, Anne Runolfsson and Scarlett Strallen, Finding Neverland and Cabaret

Dean Kelldorf and Sabrina Kiepke
Photo by Ryan Cyphert
The songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are probably best known for their Tony and Grammy winning score for the hugely successful musical Dear Evan Hansen, their Best Song Oscar win for writing the lyrics for the score of the hit film La La Land, and their songs from The Greatest Showman. However, before they won the Oscar, Tony and Grammy awards they also composed the score for a musical based on the 1991 film of the same name, Dogfight. Spotlight Youth Theatre presents an excellent production of this small, heartfelt musical that features a gifted cast, perceptive direction, and impressive creative elements.

Set in 1963, the story focuses on Marine Eddie Birdlace and his two best friends, Boland and Bernstein, as they spend their last 24 hours in San Francisco before shipping out to Vietnam. The title of the musical comes from the "dog fight" the trio are involved in, which involves soldiers betting money in a competition in which the winner is the solider who is determined to have the ugliest date. The girls the guys bring to the party, including the kind, sweet, slightly overweight, and shy Rose whom Eddie met at a diner that afternoon, are not aware of the cruel contest or that their dates actually want nothing to do with them and that they being judged as "dogs." When the truth is revealed, Eddie and Rose find their lives changed, as the turbulent times of the 1960s and the reality of the Vietnam War come crashing down on all of those involved.

Pasek and Paul's score features many memorable and upbeat songs and several introspective solos that drive the plot forward while also providing insight into the characters. Peter Duchan's book sticks fairly close to Bob Comfort's screenplay, though he bookends the show with scenes set a few years after the main action of the plot, which is a nice way to show the shame, healing and reality the characters have come to understand from the earlier events of the plot. Together, the creative team has created a musical that, while it has a fairly simple plot, is well constructed, perceptive and poignant.

Director Bobby Sample does an exceptional job of ensuring the emotions of the characters and the tender and sweet nature of the story ring true, and his cast create realistic, three-dimensional individuals. As Eddie, Dean Kelldorf is very good in portraying a troubled, nuanced man. Eddie is the character that changes and grows the most throughout the show and Kelldorf does an exceptional job in depicting the change from the cocky, chauvinistic Marine to the man who starts having second thoughts for what he has done and who begins to fully realize the pain his actions have caused. Eddie's conflicted nature and shame are perfectly expressed in Kelldorf's down-turned eyes, soft manner of speech, and taut body language which helps the audience fully see the pain and suffering Eddie goes through.

Sabrina Kiepke is superb as Rose. She beautifully evokes the sincere and direct, yet somewhat pensive, nature of this young woman who, while she is vulnerable and innocent, has a yearning desire to simply be accepted for who she is. From Kiepke's beautiful portrayal we clearly see that Rose may be lonely and awkward, but she is happy in her skin, though she hopes for someone to see her in a romantic way. Once Rose learns the truth about the dogfight competition, it gives her power and strength that she didn't know she had. It also allows her to give Eddie a chance to redeem himself, which Kiepke depicts in a completely natural way that feels realistic. Both Kiepke and Kelldorf have warm singing voices that excel. Kiepke's "Pretty Funny" and Kelldorf's "Come Back" are especially moving.

Jack Yampolsky and Jack Taylor are very good as Eddie's buddies Bernstein and Boland, respectively. They create realistic individuals, with Yampolsky's shy, uncertain, and slightly nerdy Bernstein the almost exact opposite of Taylor's cocky Boland. Yampolsky, Taylor and Kelldorf also create a natural depiction of three best buddies who are living for the moment, since they are uncertain of their future once they are shipped overseas. Josie Wright is a force of nature as the sassy and scrappy prostitute Boland brings as his date to the dogfight. Alec Pursell plays several parts, including the singer at the dogfight, with refined assurance. His interactions with the audience are hilarious.

Sample's set design looks fairly simple at first, but he includes an excellent way to depict Rose's bedroom and his and Josh Hontz's projections and video imagery, which uses backlights in key areas to provide dimension to the images, are exceptional in portraying the moving bus the Marines ride to San Francisco, a street car that Eddie and Rose take, and vivid backdrops for the many San Francisco locations in the story. Their image of the Golden Gate Bridge at night is gorgeous. Marley DeGroodt's choreography is varied, fun and additive to the scenes and plot. Andi Marie and Naomi Jordan's costumes and the hair and make-up designs by Charlie Rabago are period perfect, and Hontz's lighting does a good job in setting the tone of the scenes while his sound design is bright and clear. Tristan Peterson-Steinart's music direction provides bright vocals and strong harmonies, and the six-piece band is exceptional.

Dogfight is a simple yet moving and sympathetic musical about making amends. Spotlight Youth Theatre's production has a gifted cast, clear direction, and wonderful creative aspects that result in a moving and thoughtful presentation of a story of remembrance, redemption, and blossoming and somewhat awkward romance.

Dogfight runs through January 26, 2020, at Spotlight Youth Theatre, 10620 N 43rd Avenue, Glendale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-843-8318

Director & Scenic Design: Bobby Sample
Choreography: Marley DeGroodt
Music Director: Tristan Peterson-Steinart
Costume Design: ANJ Inc. (Andi Marie and Naomi Jordan)br> Hair and Make-Up: Charlie Rabago
Media Design: Bobby Sample and Josh Hontz
Lighting & Sound Design: Josh Hontz
Properties Design: Vicki and Kenny Grossman
Stage Manager: Maria Cruz

Eddie Birdlace: Dean Kelldorf
Rose Fenny: Sabrina Kiepke
Bernstein: Jack Yampolsky
Boland: Jack Taylor
Marcy: Josie Wright
Fector: Owen Donsker
Stevens: Kyler Tunnell
Gibbs: Josh Pike
Pete / Lounge Singer / Big Tony: Alec Pursell
Mama: Zoey Waller
Sergeant: Joshua Allred
Ruth Two Bears: Jazlynn Damasco
Peggy: Allison Watson
Librarian / Gibbs' Date: Katelyn Karcher
Suzette: Phoenix Sage
Chippy: Alyssa Armstrong
Waiter: Noah Lanouette
Stevens' Date: Ryley Grace Youngs
Ensemble Roles: Joshua Allred, Alyssa Armstrong, Jazlynn Damasco, Katelyn Karcher, Noah Lanouette, Phoenix Sage, Zoey Waller, Allison Watson, Ryley Grace Youngs