The term “dogfight” conjures up a myriad of images: two or more fighter planes in a combat duel (usually during World War I), two pit bulls fighting to the death or, perhaps, a riotous drunken brawl. (One might also conjure up an image of a certain hotshot NFL quarterback who fell from grace a few years back.) Likewise, the words “U.S. Marines” conjure up slogans such as “The Few, the Proud,” “Death Before Dishonor,” and semper fidelis (always faithful).
So, imagine our shock when we discovered that the dogfight in the title of North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s community-theater production of Dogfight the Musical refers to a cruel competition. To quote The Urban Dictionary): “Dogfight: A contest, usually between Marines or military personnel, where each man pitches in around $50. With that money, they rent a bar or club, and the rest goes to prize money. The object is to get the ugliest girl to come with you as your date. The man with the ugliest date wins. There are specific rules: 1. They must be polite. 2. They must buy the girl a drink. 3. They must dance if they want to be judged. Dancing is final judging. The Marine brought the ugliest girl he could find to the dogfight, but he still lost to the guy who brought a drag queen.”
Honor? Pride? Fidelity? We think not! But then good theater, in addition to entertaining, encourages its audience to think and to re-examine, possibly even to reform.
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s presentation of Dogfight the Musical is nothing short of phenomenal. We salute managing artistic director Timothy E. Locklear, along with his staff, cast, and crew. The show is briskly paced and remains engaging throughout.
With music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and book by Peter Duchan, Dogfight begins and ends with a mid-to-late 1960s scene in which a young marine (Eddie Birdlace) returns to San Francisco after a tour in Vietnam. Birdlace is quite obviously suffering from PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder).
The bulk of the action takes place in a flashback of November 21, 1963 — the night before his unit ships out. (Among the activities is a “dogfight.”) These scenes are followed by his departure the next morning and then brief snippets of combat action in Vietnam, before he returns to 1960s San Francisco.
Matt Verner shines as Eddie Birdlace. The differences in his demeanor prior to and after his experiences in the flashbacks are quite something. On the night in question, we feel his changes of heart before, during, and after the party that includes the “dogfight.”
Rebekah Holland shines just as brightly in her portrayal of Rose Fenney, Birdlace’s “date.” This party will be her first date, and Holland earns our sympathy for Rose as she prepares for what she anticipates will be “Nothing Short of Wonderful.”
Holland navigates her character through the disappointments and triumphs that ensue. Also noteworthy is the character’s eventual metamorphosis — apparent in the final scene — excellently prepared for from the moment that we first meet her.
Birdlace has two best pals — Boland and Bernstein — the other two thirds of “The Three Bees.” (Pay attention to some details concerning tattoos.)
Christopher Maxwell is a delight as Boland, the quintessential ring-leader type. He invests the character with such charming bravado and charisma that we easily buy into the tendency of his comrades to follow his lead. And just how “honorable” is his decision about how to participate in the “dogfight”?
Andrew Faggion plays a very sympathetic Bernstein, the least experienced of these Marine recruits. Faggion makes us believe that Bernstein would follow Boland through the Gates of Hell, and he gives us a Bernstein that is quite endearing as he “foibles through” the post-party scenes.
Simply stated: the ensemble cast is superb throughout. And there are some standout moments.
Jared Scott has a scene in which he plays a snooty waiter. The body language, the facial expressions, and the tone of voice — he has it all! This character brought the house down repeatedly.
Brandi Campbell as Suzette was a scream. The shy, nerdy, bookish exterior gives way to an unexpected behavior at the party that actually provoked one audience member to call out “Go get him, girl!” on opening night, July 14th.
Ted Willis as Lounge Singer — enough said! The man was spot-on. And Willis also delivers a solid portrayal of a completely different character (Pete) who interacts with Birdlace in the bus station before and after (possibly prompting) the flashback. Grace Gillmore is stoically delightful as Ruth Two Bears. And Nathan Hamilton invests a post-party, shirt-unbuttoned moment with a certain je ne sais quoi that prompted us to smile knowingly.
From a technical theatre point of view, this entire production is first rate. Musical director Joanna Li and choreographer Joanna Li both deliver in spades. Every song and every dance provide audio and visual delight.
Likewise, costume designer Jenny Mitchell and wig designer Ann Boivin team up to give a realistic early-to-mid 1960’s look. And, with a hand from military hair designer Sarah Squires, Mitchell delivers visually accurate 1960s Marines.
Scenic designers Mike Raab and Mike Anderson have created a versatile acting area that easily morphed from one location to another, and the cut-outs of “the city” above and behind are a nice touch.
We were especially impressed by the wizardry of lighting designer Jeremy Diamond. In scene after scene, shifts in lighting that accompanied shifts in the mood were enough to raise goosebumps.
From The Department of Picky-Picky: It is worth noting that November 21, 1963, in addition to being the eve of Birdlace and company’s deployment to Vietnam is also the eve of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Like these young Marines, the entire nation is about to lose its innocence.
The Kennedy assassination is mentioned in a note in the program, but we couldn’t help but wonder if there were not a way to make sure that this fact is called to the audience’s attention. For the record: we cannot think of a way, but that’s not our job.
NRACT’s production of Dogfight the Musical is a superb piece of musical theater. We heartily recommend it.
P.S. Rumor has it that some of the 33⅓ rpm records that appear in Rose’s collection were borrowed from Kurt.
SECOND OPINION: July 17th Raleigh, NC Spectrum News Central NC interview with actors Matt Verner and Rebekah Holland, conducted by Tara Herrschaft: http://www.twcnews.com/nc/triangle-sandhills/in-depth-interview/2017/07/17/in-depth–dogfight–the-musical–comes-to-raleigh.html; and July 12th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/dogfight-the-musical/Event?oid=6893628. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the July 15th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/07/dogfight-at-nract-features-superb-production-values-and-near-professional-performances/.)
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents DOGFIGHT THE MUSICAL at 8 p.m. July 21 and 22, 3 p.m. July 23, 8 p.m. July 28 and 29, and 3 p.m. July 30 at 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $20 Friday and Saturday ($17 students, teachers, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), and $12.42 Sunday.
BOX OFFICE: 919-866-0228, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://nract.org/tickets.
SHOW: http://www.nract.org/shows#/dogfight/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/251386952010776/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.nract.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NRACT, and https://twitter.com/NRACT.
Dogfight (1991 film) http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/73341/Dogfight/ (Turner Classic Movies page), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101748/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogfight_(film) (Wikipedia).
Dogfight the Musical (2012 Off-Broadway musical): http://pasekandpaul.com/projects/dogfight/ (official web page), http://www.mtishows.com/dogfight (Music Theatre International), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/5430 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogfight_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Benj Pasek (music and lyrics): http://pasekandpaul.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/41589 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2537947/ (Internet Movie Database).
Justin Paul (music and lyrics): http://pasekandpaul.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/41590 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2195520/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin_Paul (Wikipedia).
Peter Duchan (book): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/41591 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1947375/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Duchan (Wikipedia).
Melanie Simmons of Cary, NC is a film and stage actress with a BA degree in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. She also studied dance at San Diego Mesa College and acting with Sande Shurin Acting Studios in New York City and at The Actor’s Workshop in Los Angeles, CA. She has performed locally at the Holly Springs Cultural Center in Holly Springs, Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio in Raleigh, and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum in Cary. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read Melanie and Kurt’s reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.