Review: ‘Dog Fight’ at San Francisco Playhouse (***)

by Charles Kruger
Rating: *****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Marines (Jeffrey Brian Adams, Brandon Dahlquist, Andrew Humann, Andy Rotchadl, Nikita Burshteyn, and Aejay Mitchell) get ready for their last night on the town. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.
Marines (Jeffrey Brian Adams, Brandon Dahlquist, Andrew Humann, Andy Rotchadl, Nikita Burshteyn, and Aejay Mitchell) get ready for their last night on the town. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

In a play about marines, one might expect the title “Dogfight” to refer to some sort of battle. Well,  yes, it does, in a way — but it is a battle of the sexes set in San Francisco, not a war story set in an Asian jungle. A group of marine buddies (the three “B”s: Birdlace, Boland, and Bernstein) are set to spend their last night of leave before shipping off to war in Vietnam. Honoring a platoon tradition, they place bets on a “dogfight” — a hideous occasion for which each marine is supposed to bring a date to a nightclub and an appointed judge awards the pot to the marine with the ugliest date.

It is not a spoiler to reveal what happens, since the piece is subtitled,”A Love Story.” One of the marines, Birdlace, meets  his fate with Rose, a big girl with a big heart, and discovers that she is not such a dog after all. After some initial difficulties when Rose discovers the purpose of the party, their date turns out well and leaves Birdlace with a happy memory to take with him into battle. When he returns, as a broken veteran, he finds Rose and they embrace a bittersweet reunion.

This much-admired musical makes the most of a little with an excellent, well-crafted score. The music is adequate, not extraordinary, but the carefully constructed lyrics fit beautifully into the book, and every song moves the story along with grace and efficiency. Combine that with a fine cast, excellent direction, sterling musicianship, and superb production values and the result is a charming winner.

Rose Fenny (Caitlin Brooke) is asked out by Eddie Birdlace (Jeffrey Brian Adams). Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.
Rose Fenny (Caitlin Brooke) is asked out by Eddie Birdlace (Jeffrey Brian Adams). Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.

As the romantic leads Eddie Birdlace and Rose Fenny, Jeffrey Brian Adams and Caitlin Brooke are all that one could hope. They are vulnerable, attractive, sing, dance, and act beautifully, and they share great chemistry.  They are supported by an excellent cast of singer/dancer/actors. Michael Gene Sullivan is particularly good in a range of roles from the Sergeant who releases the young men to their last night of leave to the obnoxious nightclub performer (Big Tony) who judges the dogfight. Also outstanding is Amy Lizardo as Marcy, a strong woman who is wise to the dogfight, but confident nonetheless.

Bill English provides an excellent set (as usual), with equally excellent lighting and projections by David Lee Cuthbert. They succeed in making us believe we are at various times in a nightclub, a diner, an upstairs bedroom, and (fantastically) standing at night on the Golden Gate Bridge and wandering through the Haight in the late ’60s.

It is easy to see why “Dogfight” enjoyed a New York success, and we can be grateful to the San Francisco Playhouse for bringing this sweet, well-constructed musical to our fair city by the Bay.

“Dogfight” plays at the San Francisco Playhouse through November 7th, 2015. For further information click here.

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“Dogfight,” music and lyrics by Bej Pasek and Justin Paul, book by Peter Duchan. San Franciscvo premiere produced by the San Francisco Playhouse. Director: Bill English. Music Director: Ben Prince. Choreographer: Keith Pinto. Set: Bill English. Costumes: Tatjana Genser. Sound: Stebe Schoenbeck. Lighting & Projections: David Lee Cuthbert.

Cast:

Eddie Birdlace: Jeffrey Brian Adams. Stevens/Ensemble: Jordon Lee Bridges. Rose Fenny: Caitlin Brooke. Fector/Ensemble: Nikita Burshteyn. Boland: Brandon Dahlquist. Mama/Chippy: Sally Dana. Ruth Two Bears/Peggy: Kathryn Fox Hart. Bernstein: Andrew Humann. Marcy: Amy Lizardo. Gibbs/Ensemble: Aejay Mitchell. Pete/Seargeant/Big Tony/Ensemble: Michael Gene Sullivan. 

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