War, friendship, and love are serious elements in a man or woman’s life. Rockville Musical Theatre’s production of Dog Fight explores those elements through the music and lyrics of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the Academy Award winning lyricists behind La La Land and the Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen). With a book by Peter Duchan and direction by Dana Robinson, Dogfight is a dazzling ride through a challenging time in American History, a musical march that engages the mind and pleases the ear.
The war that the show explores is the early stages of Vietnam, 1963; the friendships are between three Marines: Eddie Baines Birdlace (Eric Jones), Boland (Garrett Zink) and Bernstein (Cam Sammartino) aka “The Three B’s”; and the love involves Birdlace and a waitress named Rose Fenny (Megan Evans). The titular dog fight refers to an ugly tradition in which Marines bet on who can bring the most unattractive woman to a dance. Matters get intense when Birdlace chooses Rose, and Boland chooses a lady of ill repute, Marcy (Hillary Templeton) to compete in the dogfight.
Musical Director Matthew Dohm and Choreographer Hayley North ensured the cast had a good foundation of music and movement to work from. Several of the first few songs put me in a Broadway state of mind. As Rose and Birdlace respectively, Evans’ powerful pipes and Jones’ vocals, along with the Company made “Prelude: Take Me Back” soar to lyrical heights. The Three B’s, Jones, Zink and Sammartino brought verve to the high energy “Some Kinda Time” and “We Three Bees.”
Jones and Evans demonstrated a strong affinity in “Come to a Party” and Evans had a superb solo in “Nothing Short of Wonderful.” After Marcy’s fight with Boland over how much she would get paid to participate in the dog fight, Templeton bit off the bitter lyrics of “It’s A Dogfight” with a peculiar lost-girl malice.
Jones and Evans made musical magic again, with beautiful harmonizing, in “First Date, Last Night.” Zink and Sammartino portrayed the exuberance of brash, young Marines in “Hometown Hero’s Ticker Tape Parade.” Evans excelled in the ballad-like “Before It’s Over” and with the help of the Ensemble, in “Give Way.
Ensemble member Steve Cairns was entertaining as the Lounge Singer and had smooth vocals in “Blast Off.” Cairns had fantastic company in the Ensemble, which included the highly skilled: Jordan Clifford, Luis “Matty” Montes, Chad Rabago, Karen Harris, Robin Samek, Megan Mostow, and Katie Shaffer.
Lighting Designer Rick Swink helped the actors reach an emotional apex in some of the later scenes with individual spotlighting. Costume Designer Lee Michele Rosenthal clothed her Marines in sharp non-combat and combat outfits. I was impressed by the property work of Cathy Kieserman, Christal Taylor and Sonya Tavitian, especially their finding several replica M16 rifles for the battle scene. The music engaged the audience’s ears throughout thanks to Paul Grossman’s drums, Danny Santiago’s guitar, Tony Aragon’s bass guitar, and Audrey Chang’s violin.
Dogfight’s incredible score and fine cast will leave audiences delighted and moved.
Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Dog Fight plays through March 26, 2017, at Rockville Musical Theatre performing at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online.