Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

San Francisco Playhouse

Also see Richard's reviews of Lizzie, The Events and This Is Our Youth

Jeffrey Brian Adams and Caitlin Brooke
Dogfight is enjoyable, moving, stimulating, and wonderful all rolled up in one terrific two-hour production. The musical is based on the Warner Brothers film of 1991 starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor. The San Francisco Playhouse production has a first rate cast of singers and actors and runs through November 7th. Dogfight is set in San Francisco in 1963 and features a group of Marines on their last night of shore leave before setting off for Vietnam. It brought back memories of when I shipped out for the Pacific Theatre of War from San Francisco in 1944.

Dogfight follows these Marines as they engage in a time honored tradition referred to as the "dogfight" wherein they each set out to bring an unattractive and unsuspecting girl to a dance. They rent out a bar for the occasion and the one who brings the woman the judge considers to be the ugliest wins the pot. Private Eddie Birdlace invites the shy, folk-singing waitress Rose to the party. She soon learns the real purpose of the date and gives Eddie a lesson on life, love and, finally, forgiveness.

Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are harmonious and engaging; the melodies sometimes reminded me of the work of a younger Stephen Sondheim when he wrote Saturday Night and Evening Primrose. The lyrics are of crafty straightforwardness and Keith Pinto's choreography can be described as powerful male-hormone movements with hard-hitting military moves. Peter Duchan's book catches the talk of Marines that is very realistic and there are well-written tender scenes between Eddie and Rose. All of these characters are beautifully blemished in some way, but that's what makes it so interesting.

Director Bill English does his typically effective job of guiding his actors around the stage. The scene in the second act that involves the Marines in action is painstaking realistic, in my estimation. Costumes by Tatjana Genser are authentic for the era. Steve Schoenbeck's sound and David Lee Cuthbert's lighting add realism in the second act battle scene.

Jeffrey Brian Adams is impressive as Eddie. He skillfully plays the role of a boy who is not yet a man. He is brash but deeply vulnerable. Caitlin Brooke is stunning as natural, understated Rose. Her earnest, vulnerable performance is a high point of the musical. Both have mellifluous voices which highlight the show's best songs, like the optimistic "Nothing Short of Wonderful" for Brooke and Adams' weighty soliloquy "Come Back."

Amy Lizardo is full of sass as Marcy, a hooker who "wins" the dogfight. Michael Gene Sullivan gives a first rate performance in many roles, including a snooty headwaiter, sleazy night club singer, and a bus passenger. Sally Dana does fine work as Rose's kind mother while Kathryn Fox Hart is excellent as the slow-witted Ruth. Brandon Dahlquist stands out as Boland, with strong reverberating singing, as does Andrew Humann playing Bernstein, the marine who has not yet been "laid." Adding zest in supporting roles are Jordon Lee Bridges, Nikita Burshteyn, and Aejay Mitchell.

The cast is ably supported by a six-piece orchestra led by Ben Price. The sound balance between the singers and the orchestra is perfect. The two story set, with the Golden Gate arch in the center, is excellent. The projections of various photos of San Francisco in the '90s are spot on.

Dogfight plays through November 7th, 2015, at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-677-9596 or visit Coming up next is Sara Ruhl's Stage Kiss opening on November 17 and running through January 9, 2016.

Photo: Jessica Palopoli

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