Hey everyone, time to say goodbye to chili fries and apple pies and Dinah Shore because Keegan Theatre is currently presenting the perfect way to end summer with their latest production. The musical Dogfight played an engagement at NYC’s Second Stage and probably should have transferred to Broadway. It did not however and after seeing the Keegan production I was left with the same question I had after seeing it in NY…“Why not?”
Go and experience what Broadway missed out on. It really is some kinda time.
Peter Duchan’s strongly written book, based on the film of the same name, follows three marines on their last night of freedom in San Francisco before shipping out to Vietnam. Known as the three Bs, there is Birdlace, Boland and Bernstein (Tiziano D’Affuso, Harrison Smith and David Landstrom) who decide to have some fun with a ritual known as the Dogfight. The object is to find the ugliest woman possible and invite them out for a date. The homeliest chick wins the marine $50. Boland has won the honor by hiring Marci (Dani Stoller) who can remove her teeth at a moment’s notice. Birdlace meets his entry in a diner. Her name is Rose (Isabelle Smelkinson) and is a plain Jane who never goes anywhere except to work in her mom’s diner. While Birdlace asks Rose to join him as a goof initially, the two grow to like each other more and more as the night goes on. While Boland and Bernstein are off doing inappropriate things to women and getting tattoos, Birdlace is enjoying his night with Rose. Ultimately, he ships off to Vietnam the next morning and…. see the show for the finish.
As tight as the book is on its own, the score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who are the composers of Dear Evan Hansen which recently played at Arena Stage, elevates it even more. From the high-octane opening song called “Some Kinda Time” to the very last strains of “Take Me Back,” the team demonstrates themselves as two writers that should be the next big Broadway songwriting team. The orchestrations by Michael Starobin help as well when played by the full complement of six musicians under the direction of Jake Null. Keegan Theatre takes great care when presenting musicals and they generally use as many musicians as a particular show calls for. Brava to maestro Null for always keeping the integrity of the music intact once again.
There are plenty of good…no great performances to talk about but the two stand outs are D’Affuso and Smelkinson as Birdlace and Rose. D’Affuso’s powerful voice rings out loud and clear with his solo turn called “Come Back.” His characterization gets inside the head of a young man who has to figure out the balance between being a by the book marine and being a real person.
Smelkinson is a junior at AU and Dogfight is her first professional credit. She has made a big impressive splash as Rose. Her portrayal of the slightly awkward girl is moving throughout. Imagine going out on your first date only to find out it was because of a bet. How would you react? Smelkinson’s impressive vocals include “Nothing Short of Wonderful” and the duet with D’Affuso called “First Date, Last Night.” Welcome to the professional DC stage Ms. Smelkinson.
As Boland and Bernstein, Smith and Landstrom have their roles down pat. They both capture the sleazy and the innocent respectively. Boland’s feeling is that all women are pieces of meat and will pretty much do anything to prove that. Some might say this shows the military in a bad light but turn on the news and you will find that Smith’s characterization isn’t necessarily a fabrication. Landstrom’s Bernstein depicts the first time in the military kid perfectly.
The ensemble in multiple roles play everything from sleazy lounge singers to marines. Dani Stoller as the ugly of the ugly Marci is a particular standout.
Kurt Boehm’s choreography is energetic while having a military feel to it. It enhances rather than distracts and that is always a good thing.
Directors Christina A. Coakley and Michael Innocenti actually made the end of the show more satisfying for me than the original production and they made the characters a little bit more human too. The fine line between bombastic and obnoxious is perfectly captured in their staging.
Matthew Keenan’s set makes full use of the newly refurbished Keegan Stage and lighting god Colin Dieck provides one of the best designs I’ve seen at Keegan Theatre thus far.
Overall, Dogfight at Keegan Theatre takes us out of summer and into fall with a slam-bang production. Semper fi do or die. Go and experience what Broadway missed out on. It really is some kinda time.
Advisory: Adult themes and much language.
Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission.
Dogfight plays through September 19, 2015 at The Keegan Theatre – 1742 Church Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 265-3767 or click here.