Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dogfight ***

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
The latest entry in the seemingly endless parade of movie to musical adaptations is this production now in previews at Second Stage. The source is a 1991 movie starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor that did not do well at the box office. This dogfight has nothing to do with aerial combat; it is the name of a cruel game played by a group of marines in San Francisco on the night before they ship out for Vietnam in 1963. They pool their money to throw a party at which the guy bringing the ugliest date wins the game and the cash. Their dates are obviously not in on the joke. Eddie Birdlace (Derek Klena) meets Rose (Lindsay Mendez), a waitress in a coffee shop, and invites her to the party. As they say, complications arise. The ensemble cast of 11 is uniformly strong; Josh Segarra as Boland, the lead Marine, and Annaleigh Ashford as Marcie, the prostitute, are standouts. The music and lyrics, jointly credited to Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are mostly quite good and well-integrated into the book. The first act is tightly knit and satisfying. Alas, Peter Duchan's book loses momentum after intermission and never fully recovers. David Zinn's set design and costumes are admirable. What Christopher Gattelli, this year's "go-to" choreographer, offers is more stylized movement than dancing, but it is nonetheless effective. Joe Mantello's direction, except for the doldrums midway through act two, holds everything together well. I hope they work out the second act problems, because the show has much to offer. Among the many things that it gets right is showing the gap between Vietnam veterans' expectations for their welcome home and the one they actually received. Running time: 2 hours including intermission. Note: Most of the audience was under 35, a refreshing change from the usual.

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