Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of De Kus/The Kiss
Winner of the 2013 "Outstanding Musical" Lucille Lortel Award, this very brash and highly polished revival sails along as a group of young Marines muster for Vietnam in 1963. Justin Been directs, and the performers on stage hit such naturalistic attitudes, even as they sing their soaring songs, you can't help being swept up. It's jubilant and juvenile, and hits you twice as hard as almost any other show, in very tender places.
Brendan Ochs (Eddie) and Shannon Cothran (Rose) are fantastic as the love interests, though they don't meet till halfway through the first act. Rose is idealistic and down to earth, though she flees after something awful happens at a dance. Eddie starts out full of bravado, but must struggle to get emotionally "on track" with Rose once again, till late into the night.
The title of the show refers to a humiliating prank the young Marines are assigned to carry off, after much great singing and dancing: putting up a prize for whoever can bring the ugliest girl to a big loud party, where the winning young Marine will get a cash prize. They all seem passionately committed to the idea, for the sake of the unit. And in two cases, it backfires spectacularly.
Is it, then, an anti-war musical? (Still a troublesome question, more than 50 years after the main body of the story!)
No; although it depicts the casual cruelty of a few young servicemen, it amounts to more of a reckless, heart-wrenching romance (with great songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul). And it seems more about what going to war does to young men, and how unprepared both young men and young women are in general, for the great machinations of it all. It's based on a movie of the same name from 1991, which starred River Phoenix and Lili Taylor.
The dance party packs considerable tension, as we are in on the terrible secret. And it features Jason Meyers as an Elvis (or Roy Orbison)-inspired band singer, hilariously committed to the role. But it works because one of the girls is a young prostitute who plans to split the winnings with one jarhead, and another is a Native American who couldn't possibly care less (and who gets her revenge when no one's looking). So there are psychological levels where the women can potentially escape the cruel victimization in store. Sara Rae Womack plays the sex-worker, full of hard-nosed realism (and she does a really great song in a ladies restroom); while Tracey Herweck is solemnly funny as the wooden Ruth Two Bears.
But not every woman escapes intact. The evening turns harrowing on a surprisingly sincere level, because Ms. Cothran (who wears minimal "hair-and-makeup" under unflattering lights, as Rose) is just so darned good in the role: touching and real as a kitchen sink, with a sterling voice too. Luke Steingruby (as Boland) and Kevin O'Brien (as Bernstein) are Eddie's pals, and the way they handle their last big night out is consistently exciting, with choreography by Zachary Stefaniak and vocal arrangements by Chris Petersen.
The whole cast (and orchestra) display such fine precision and delight, it makes what could be "no-name" show into something very important for us in the audience.
With a libretto by Peter Duchan, Dogfight continues through October 24, 2015, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave. For more information visit www.straydogtheatre.org
Cast (in order of appearance):
Band:Director/Keyboard: Chris Petersen