There are more than enough musicalizations of kitschy, middlebrow comedies out there, so it’s nice to see a musical version of Dogfight, the serious 1991 cult period film about a marine who takes plain Jane to a party without telling her the goal is that the guy with the ugliest date gets a prize.
It’s also lovely to find that this version–with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, book by Peter Duchan, and direction by Joe Mantello–is earnest and artsy, obviousy filled with good intentions.
Alas, the score is too jangly and faux-Sondheimish at times, and the result, despite tender care and professionalism, doesn’t make an argument for the fact that Dogfight screamed out to be musicalized.
Lindsay Mendez is very good as Rose, the coffee shop worker who starts to realize she’s been pulled into a horrible game, which is made even more complicated by the fact that she develops feelings for the guy.
Mendez plays the character less awkward and shy than Lili Taylor did in the movie, but she’s every bit the idealistic outcast, full of vulnerability, pride, and an ability to break hearts all over the place.
Derek Klena is persuasive as Eddie, the offending marine, who has more integrity than his two buds, as he finds himself caring for the girl he had set up to humiliate.
As Rose starts educating Eddie to the glories of folk music, which protests the absurd pseudo-patriotism that leads to corrupt wars, it’s clear that her values are at odds with the ones he’s been fed, all against a battlefield of 1960s turmoil and change.
Their Act II date scene–similar to the one in the movie–is funny, touching, and well played, as feelings fly along with the curse words.
But then the pace becomes slow and portentous and there’s too much faux importance for this little work to bear.
So Dogfight amounts to a mass of admirable intentions that’s classy but not inspired enough.
Bring a date who looks…however she wants.