THE dogfight in the title of this musical refers to a practice, apparently encouraged by American marines during the Vietnam War as an informal exercise in dehumanisation, to make it emotionally simpler for them to carry out their violent orders.
This dogfight is a party where the marine who brings the ugliest, unsuspecting date wins a cash prize.
The show itself, set in the ’60s, and first seen off-Broadway in 2012, is an early effort by the songwriting team of Pasek and Paul, best known for the films “The Greatest Showman” and “La La Land”, and an interesting and challenging choice for the ANU Musical Theatre Company and first-time director, Zoe O’Leary Cameron.
With its coarse language and misogynistic behavior it is sometimes uncomfortable viewing, but despite budget and casting limitations, O’Leary Cameron and her team have managed to produce an interesting and thought-proving production that showcases a truly outstanding performance by Tegan Braithwaite as the central character, Rose.
As the too-pretty date of Birdlace (Rohan Pillutia), who with his two rooky marine mates, Bernstein (Tristan Davies) and Boland (Jeremy Spencer Broom), organise the dogfight, Braithwaite is mesmerising. Despite a limited vocal range, her singing is so heartfelt that her songs sound like an extension of her dialogue.
She has the ability to lose herself in her character so that her every move and reaction is totally believable. Her performance alone is worth the price of admission.
Rohan Pillutia impresses as the unrelentingly intense Birdlace, who finds himself juggling his confusion over his growing feelings for Rose and his loyalty to his mates, and Daisy Sibtain, as the hard-bitten, worldly-wise prostitute, Marcy, gives a strong performance.
Millie Bull and Kat Carrington’s excellent multi-level setting incorporates colourful LED graphics to conjure up various locations and is used to good effect by O’Leary Cameron in her staging of the production numbers and particularly for the scene on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and the bedroom scene towards the end of the second act.
Of particular interest in this production is the opportunity to hear the Pasek and Paul score that, while not particularly distinguished, is beautifully performed by Jack Quail’s onstage ensemble and, mostly, well-sung by a cast in which any lack of experience is more than compensated by their strongly committed performances.
Full marks to the ANU Musical Theatre Company for providing the opportunity to enjoy this creditable staging of a challenging and thought- provoking musical.