The European Première of ‘Dogfight’ at Southwark Playhouse
‘Dogfight’ at Southwark Playhouse
Running until 13th September 2014
Extra midweek matinee added due to popular demand on Tuesday 9 September
Produced by Danielle Tarento, Directed by Matt Ryan
Music & Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Book by Peter Duchan
Starring: Laura Jane Matthewson, Jamie Muscato, Emily Olive Boyd, Cellen Chugg Jones, Nicholas Corre, Matthew Cutts, Joshua Dowen, Ciaran Joyce, Amanda Minihan, Rebecca Trehearn, Samuel J Weir
‘Dogfight’ well and truly erupted onto the stage this week in what is a touching story of love and war. Set in San Francisco during the early 1960s, the story follows a group of young marines the night before they are due to leave for Vietnam. The gang of indiscriminate testosterone-fuelled pranksters decide to embark on a ‘dogfight’ game of gambling against each other to see who can pull the ugliest party dance date. The results are humorous, sometimes outrageous and inevitably lead the motley crew into unceremonious territory.
Based on the musical adaptation of Nancy Savoca’s 1991 Warner Bros. film and screenplay by Bob Comfort which starred River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, the show features music and lyrics by Tony Nominees Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (for A Christmas Story, The Musical) and book by American playwright and screenwriter Peter Duchan. ‘Dogfight’ is one of the most exciting off-Broadway musicals to hit the London stage in what is a beautifully crafted production. Having received a nomination from the Drama League for Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Musical in July 2012 ‘Dogfight’ is certainly now in the spotlight on this side of the pond and is taking theatregoers and critics by storm. Danielle Tarento, the award-winning Producer of hits such as ‘Titanic’, ‘Mack & Mabel’ and ‘Parade’ has created a tremendous, timely war-time musical in what is an extremely well-executed, highly polished production that spills over with themes of humour, drama, love and loss, but still manages to maintain an epic sense of Broadway spectacle in the small space.
The detailed directing by Matt Ryan is a masterclass in how to maximise a very small studio. He makes full use of the balcony which houses a six piece band under the musical direction of George Dyer - the orchestrations are exhilarating and are matched well against the score. Matt Ryan has concentrated on strong choreography and on/off stage props to enhance the entire downstairs space – too much scenery and it would look cluttered; instead of a lavish set, emphasis is placed on props and scenery being shifted on and off as part of the musical numbers. Lee Newby (Set & Costume Designer) has kept everything as simple as possible which makes the choreography much easier. Seating is squared around the space meaning the cast plays in the round and Ryan has managed to achieve the difficult objective of having actors on stage playing to each part of the audience which they do in very close proximity to the front row. The high energy choreography by Lucie Pankhurst and Dance Captain Nicholas Corre is dynamite as the marines literally burst onto the set in a blaze of glory at the start of this production, most notably seen in the terrific opening number ‘Some Kinda Time’.
James Muscato nails the character of heartthrob Eddie Birdlace, a young gun who despite the chest beating bravado and blond crew-cut, is actually a virgin. Laura Jane Matthewson marks her first professional London stage début in the role as Eddie’s date Rose Fenney and left the audience spellbound particularly in musical number ‘Pretty Funny’. Matthewson is cast perfectly in this role as a young, sensitive, guitar playing café waitress who finds herself a match for angry Eddie and ultimately their insecurities bring them together. Leaving aside Eddie’s misogynistic pranks and swearing, he is just as unsure about life as awkward Rose and as the story jogs along we see glimpses of his own veiled insecurities.
Rebecca Trehearn gives a powerful performance as the gutsy, brash prostitute Marcy who is losing her teeth as well as other things! Voice/Accent Coach Simon Money has done a grand job of working on her Boston sounding accent. I must also mention Matthew Cutts who dazzles in the first act as the sparkling, grinning Lounge Singer. Cellen Chugg Jones (Boland), Nicholas Corre (Bernstein), Samuel J Weir (Fector), Joshua Dowen (Stevens) and Ciaran Joyce (Gibbs) give powerhouse performances and there are some exquisite cameo appearances from Amanda Minihan (Mama) and Emily Olive Boyd (Ruth Two Bears).
The second act of this production completely contrasts with the first as the marines enter the battlefield. The lighting by Howard Hudson is particularly dramatic and similarly the sound design by Andrew Johnson is phenomenal and will have you leaping out of your chair as the thundering of helicopters seems to whiz over your head.
‘Dogfight’ manages to capture audiences of different generations and plays on the senses. Misogyny, first love, brutality, war, loss and heartbreak are individually not complex. The secret of combining these ideas without muddling or confusing them undoubtedly lies in the skill of the writers who layer each emotion until you are left with a totally unexpected, gripping experience.
‘Dogfight’ certainly brings home the sobering reality of war in what is a timely musical that pays homage to those who have sacrificed their lives and those who have lost loved ones.
Danielle Tarento continues to produce varied, punchy work that is always unusual and inspirational. Another smash hit.
Box Office:020 7407 0234
Extra midweek matinee added due to popular demand on Tuesday 9 September at 2.30pm!
Please note that this production is recommended for those aged 11+. PAYG memberships cannot be used for the final week of performances. There is smoking and strobe lighting throughout the performance.
Tarento Productions: http://tarento.net/
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