By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
A hotshot marine regrets his participation in a misogynistic competition when he starts to fall for the allegedly unattractive woman he brings to an Ugly Date Contest in “Dogfight.”
In 1963, Birdlace (Adam Speers), Bolland (Ryan Hadbavny) and Bernstein (Michael Tarasovich), AKA the Three B’s, are given shore leave in San Francisco one night before they deploy to Vietnam. On their one free evening, they – along with a few other marines – decide to fuck with some ugly women by holding the aforementioned unseemly competition.
P.S. If you’re offended in the use of the F word in the review, the show is definitely not for you. The men curse more often than they break into song in this musical.
Birdlace meanders into a diner where he hits on the proprietor Mama (Stephanie Ottey) and then moves in on to the daughter, Rose (Kristin Welch). Rose is by no means unattractive. She does have one unfortunate handicap. Rose was born without any fashion sense. She wears a big poufy dress with a bright yellow bow in her hair.
Birdlace lies to her, cajoles her and then invites her to the party. On the way to the main event, Birdlace begins to have doubts about inviting this shy, awkward girl to the heinous affair.
Rose reveals, in song, that it’s her first date. She’s excited to be on the muscly arm of the marine.
There’s one rule to this soiree: The men are not allowed to use prostitutes to participate. Bolland breaks the rule and invites Marcy (Ashley Harmon), a hooker with a set of false teeth, who spills the beans to Rose in the ladies’ room. Rose is crushed and runs out.
The Three B’s decide to continue their carousing, drinking and hiring prostitutes. When a weary hooker (Candice Fisher) wants to call it quits for the evening, the troupe…um…insists she assist Bernstein with his rite of passage to manhood, literally ‘twisting her arm’ into it. Birdlace realizes how awful his comrades are and rushes back to apologize to Rose and tries to win her back.
Way inside theater reference: “Dogfight” is like “Violet” told from Monty’s perspective.
Welch is the shining star here. She looks like Sally Field in “Gidget.” She’s cute, perky and lovable – even in the poufy dress. The girl can sing! She is a powerhouse, and the number one reason to see this show.
Tarasovich is also wonderful. He’s the most nuanced of the Three B’s. He makes Bernstein likable with a few deft gestures and a bright smile.
Fisher is hilarious in three different roles. The actor made each character unique and distinct. It’d be challenging to pick a favorite of her character roles, but the nearly silent and comical Ruth Two Bears is way up there.
Jeff Way is delightful as a snooty Maître D of a high-priced San Francisco restaurant.
“Dogfight” is tough to watch in our #metoo world. Women are treated extremely badly and the men brush it off in song (Hometown Hero’s Tickertape Parade), and excuse it away with, “Your dad did it. Your grandfather did it” as if reprehensible behavior should be considered a tradition. It’s important to shine a light on the subject, but it is tough to watch, especially in a musical.
When Birdlace returns from Vietnam, a hippie spits on him. You’re supposed to pity his sad welcome home, but he kinda deserves it.
Jeremy Eiben’s costumes and Cara Walkowiak’s hair and wigs will bring you back to the 60s.
There’s some fun music in “Dogfight.” Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have a few repetitious lyrics but they are catchy, and Cara Walkowiak does some brilliant work with the choreography. Director Rob James also does a remarkable job with a troupe of community theater actors.
It won’t be long before Welch levels up to Equity. You should see her just so you can say, “I knew her when…”
You can check out a preview of the musical here.
“Dogfight” runs through May 20 at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Avenue, Carnegie, PA 15106. For more information, click here.