The cast of Dogfight at the Apollo Civic Theatre tackles an unusually difficult subject, especially for a musical, with great aplomb, assisted by excellent direction and unique technical effects.
With a book by Peter Duchan and music and lyrics by Ben J. Pasek and Justin Paul, Dogfight is a musical set from 1963-1967 in the midst of the Vietnam conflict and portrays one night of fun and cruelty in San Francisco before several young Marines leave for Vietnam. Holding a cruel contest titled a “Dogfight,” whichever Marine brings the ugliest date to a party will win a large amount of money. Marine Eddie Birdlace meets and brings Rose Fenny, a sweet and unassuming waitress, to the party, and the characters learn some hard lessons about life, sacrifice and love on the eve of war.
Beautifully directed and musically directed by Paul Cabell and assistant directed by Gabrielle Tokach, Dogfight tackles some pretty serious subjects for a musical, including PTSD, war depictions and the idea of beauty versus ugliness in women. The directors do not shy away from insensitive moments and the cast vividly portrays the difficult moments in the story with their exceptional performances.
CorRay LaFleur gave an outstanding performance as the main character Eddie Birdlace. As the show was his character’s flashback memory, LaFleur had the most of amount of stage time and excelled in both rowdy full cast scenes and intimate love scenes with Megan West’s character, Rose Fenny. LaFleur’s transition from carefree kid to experienced adult was exceptional and his solo “Come Back” near the end of Act II was phenomenal and truly a heartwrenching moment.
Megan West was the clear audience favorite as the heartbreaking, sincere diner waitress, Rose Fenny. She had several standout moments throughout the show, particularly her exceptional performances in her solos “Nothing Short of Wonderful” and “Pretty Funny.” She also had a very funny moment in Act II that nearly stopped the show when Rose decides to make some changes in her vocabulary.
Ed Conn displayed incredible comedic timing and wonderful character work as the nerdy and insecure friend, Dickie Bernstein. Nate Baker had a very powerful and shady presence as Ralphie Boland, the most street smart member of the group, though his diction needs to be a little crisper as many lines were hard to understand.
Emily Santy was gentle and tender while portraying Rose’s Mama and other characters, and her entrance at the end of “Come to a Party” was expertly timed to hilarious effect. Elizabeth Ricketts was extremely funny as Ruth Two Bears, a girl at the Dogfight and several other ensemble roles. She and Conn practically stole the dance sequence during the party scene with their hilarious deadpan antics.
Vanessa Furby gave a very gritty and realistic performance as the sexily confident prostitute, Marcy, though she was slightly under pitch while belting in a character voice during the title song.
Brian Terrell has several scene-stealing moments as various ensemble characters. Particularly impressive was an unexpected cameo during “Hey Good Lookin’” and his transition from a high class restaurant waiter to a gruff, blue collar tattoo artist in a matter of minutes.
Dustin McQuaid as Fector and Chad Silveous as Stevens were excellent as fellow feisty Marines. Their antics and audience interactions during “Hey Good Lookin’”, running into the house and jumping seats while attempting to flirt with the female audience members, were hilarious and a clever directorial choice.
Cabell and Tokach had several brilliant directorial moments in the production.The war sequence in Act II was extremely powerful with effective simple blocking. The facial expressions from the male cast members playing Marines made the sequence very emotional, and the opening moments of the show were staged in a haunting manner. Many sequences in the show were blocked and staged to great effect, although some moments seemed a little cramped with such a vast space to utilize on the large stage at the Apollo.
Sets, designed by Jason Lark, were very simple and easily conveyed various locations in 1960’s San Francisco. An outstanding set change occurred by simply rotating a platform rapidly to transform from the diner into Rose’s bedroom.
Costumes, provided by the cast and crew, evoke the feel of the 60s through bold patterns and classic lines, with accurate period Marine uniforms. Lighting, designed by Eric Coffinberger, was the best technical element overall as the lighting effects simply and effectively displayed different moods and lighting was incredibly moving to illustrate casualties during the war sequence.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.