Dogfight

Date 8th April 2022
Society Wilburton Theatre Group
Venue St Peter's Hall, Wilburton
Type of Production Musical
Director DeeDee Doke
Musical Director Kathie Pugh
Producer Wilburton Theatre Group
Written By Pasek & Paul

Report

Author: Julie Petrucci

Wilburton Theatre Group is never afraid to challenge both themselves and their audiences and their latest production does just that. This musical, by Pasek & Paul (of Greatest Showman and Dear Evan Hansen fame) was premiered off Broadway in 2012 and in London in 2014. It deals with the social and cultural issues around the 1960s and the Vietnam war and is the story of three Marines (the 3 Bees) who decide to spend their last night before initial deployment on partying and the ritual of a “dogfight” (which entails a competition to see who can bring the ugliest girl to the party).

Director DeeDee Doke used a completely open stage, which relied in the main on lighting to depict location, with minimal additions of tables, chairs etc. when required. The authentic costumes looked good and hair/makeup was suitable, particularly short hair for the marines. Distant battle sound effects were convincing and lighting effective.

Having a reasonably small cast enabled everyone to have their ‘moment’ and all the minor roles were all well covered. Daniel Block was the nerdy and sexually inexperienced Bernstein. He portrayed the awkward young Marine well, as did Jon Armstrong as the loud and equally inexperienced but bravado displaying Boland. This pair contrasted effectively with each other. 

The third “3 Bees” Marine was Michael Broom as Eddie Birdlace, who started off as “one of the boys” but was gradually changed under the influence of his girlfriend – realising that their Marine ritual was wrong. Michael showed his changes of attitude in a serious way and his burgeoning relationship with Rose was sensitively handled. A first-rate actor with a great voice.

Leading lady Claire Geraghty gave an absolutely excellent performance as Rose Fenny – starting as a shy waitress at a diner who has dreams of becoming a folk musician and gradually showing her strength when she discovers what the ‘dogfight’ really means. Claire has a gorgeous voice and sang beautifully. When Eddie apologised and persuaded Rose to have dinner with him and they then spent the night together, Michael developed a good onstage rapport and the show’s finale after the war when they re-united was a welcome ending.  Their duets were lovely.

Caroline Watson played the brash and toothless prostitute Marcy, who Boland paid to be his date – she was very convincing as ‘the tart with the heart’. An actress who knows how to belt out a song.

The score sounds (to my ears at least) a bit Sondheimesque and is definitely not easy, as MD Kathie Pugh states in her programme note, but under her baton the 5-piece band did a great job. The cast were well tutored and although some of them had never sung in public before they gave it their all. I did though have problems hearing some of the dialogue when underscored by the music and at times it overpowered the less stronger voices in the cast.

A study of rookie marines taking their final leave before being shipped out to the Vietnam War was an interesting choice for a musical and, although it is not likely to become a favourite of mine, does work, especially in conveying the jingoistic attitudes of the time. Covering genres from quiet ballads to battle scene, from cruelty to hope; this show requires co-operation between director, choreographer, MD, technicians backstage and cast.  A real team effort in effect.  I take my hat off to the WTG Committee for taking a risk with a little known show as the amateur and professional theatre start to revive after the enforced two-year hiatus.  I hope the chance pays off financially as artistically the fairly full Friday night audience was certainly appreciative.