Musical Theatre / “Dogfight”. At Gungahlin Theatre until February 4. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.
THE premise is unsavoury ; the language often coarse and confronting; yet here’s a poetic, pitch-perfect production that grabs attention from the very first moments and doesn’t let go until the final affecting denouement.
The musical concerns three young marines who, on their final night in town before being shipped off to fight in Vietnam, enter a pact in which the winner will be the one who brings the ugliest date to a party known as a dogfight.
It was a practice apparently encouraged by the American Marines as an informal exercise in dehumanisation to make it emotionally simpler for them to carry out their violent orders.
Anchoring the production, in the central role as Eddie, Alexander Club is riveting. He plays the young marine who finds himself juggling his confusion over his loyalty to his mates and his growing feelings for Rose, the naïve young waitress he’s convinced to be his date.
He’s matched every moment of the way by Taylor Paliaga’s charismatic portrayal as Rose, in which her every move and reaction feels totally believable and authentic, making it impossible not to become invested in the outcome of their story.
Supporting these two remarkable performances in this tightly focused production is a strong ensemble of experienced performers led by Will Collett and Grayson Woodham as Eddie’s mates, Boland and Bernstein. Distinguishing themselves in critical character roles, Kit Berry is a standout as the goodtime girl, Marcy; Kirrily Cornwell is totally believable as Rose’s concerned mother; Liam Downing makes a strong impression as Fector, and Pippin Carrol scores with his sly cameo as the worldly lounge singer.
Charlotte Gearside brings flair to her cameo as the patient restaurateur while Luke Ferdinands, Kara Murphy, Rachel Seo, Frank Shanahan and Rachel Thornton all impress with their totally on-song contributions.
A particularly impressive feature of this production is the choreography of Nathan Rutups, who clearly understands that there is more to choreographing contemporary musicals than inventing clever dance steps.
For this production Rutups has created a dreamlike movement vocabulary for his cast of predominantly non-dancers who all participate in elegant scene changes in which furniture swirls around the stage and mysterious figures suddenly flit through Chris Zuber’s quite beautiful abstract setting, enhanced as it is by the atmospheric lighting design achieved by Craig Muller and Grant Pegg .
Equally impressive is the musical direction of Caleb Campbell who, from his keyboard, confidently guided his orchestra and cast through the complexities of the Pasek and Paul score achieving, with the assistance of James McPherson’s sensitive sound design, an excellent balance between the singers and his excellent on-stage orchestra.
“Dogfight” is the latest in a long line of impressive productions presented by Richard Block with his Dramatic Productions, which he created specifically to present musicals in the Gungahlin Theatre. This production of “Dogfight”, with its superb combination of polished direction, musical direction, choreography, excellent set and costume design supported with superb sound and lighting design, is a production that would grace any professional stage and, as such, despite its comparatively brief season, is one not to be missed by anyone with even a passing interest in the art of musical theatre.
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