Dogfight the Musical — Chapel Off Chapel, Naarm, Melbourne (VIC)
Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Book by Peter Duchan. Based on the Warner Bros. film and screenplay by Bob Comfort.
Reviewed by Edelweiss Angelita Chapel Off Chapel, Prahran 9th - 26th November Tickets: https://chapeloffchapel.com.au/show/dogfight/
- A stunning production filled with performances that break beyond the walls of the space, allowing you to reflect on the flaws of humanity, and the preciousness of life -
I remember being in rehearsal for a show a few years ago – I was accompanying a group of friends on the keys during a break time jam session like one does. Someone requested a number from this underdog musical called Dogfight, which I wasn’t familiar with, and they were very adamant that I should give this show a go. Fast forward five years later, I finally see why this friend felt very strongly about this early Pasek and Paul gem.
Arriving at the gorgeous location where Chapel Off Chapel resides, I immediately fell in love. For a show like Dogfight, the venue is perfectly charming. It facilitates the intimacy of the show – a small number of cast, musical numbers that do not go overboard, characters that feel like a mirror to our reality, even 60-something years later from its Vietnam war setting.
Act One had a strong opening. The moment Rose – played by Antoinette Davis – started singing the prelude, I knew that she was going to be something else. Davis’ vocals proved to provide a solid foundation for the show.
Theatrical's production of Dogfight (2023). Photos by Nicole Cleary
The show’s opening number, ‘Some Kinda Time’ was everything you would expect from a Benj Pasek and Justin Paul group number. It’s upbeat, it’s feel-good, it gives you enough time to discern who among the cast members might be the standouts you might want to keep an eye out for.
The Three Bees – Eddie Birdlace (Daniel Nieborski), Boland (Josh Direen), and Berstein (Tristan Sicari) – graced the stage with a winsome chemistry among the three of them. It was like watching three dear friends just having fun with each other on stage. Their first number together ‘The Three Bees’ established the comradeship and easy camaraderie within their dynamic.
Despite the questionable motif that underlies their otherwise lovely first interaction, the chemistry between Eddie and Rose shone through in the pair’s first duet of the show, ‘Come to a Party’. The way Davis portrayed Rose with these bright-eyed, compassionate, intuitive, genuinely good person qualities almost made me wish she turned down Eddie. I particularly love how despite her naivety, Davis’ Rose is nowhere near being a clueless ingénue. Her character is layered – convincing the audience that more than just being a good person, Rose is also resourceful and sensible – and so every action that comes out of the goodness of her heart is not out of obnoxiousness. This Rose sure does garner my affection – I rooted so hard for her happiness.
It’s always such a treat to be able to hear grounded, powerhouse vocals that take you to the skies.
On the other hand, Nieborski’s portrayal of Eddie is complex and conflicted enough that he truly won my empathy. The audience can see that Eddie wants to partake in a childish game that his people play – an activity that tightens the bond within his ride-or-dies, but also at the same time he has enough kindness in his heart and common sense in his mind to know that what he’s doing is going to end up this person he’s starting to care enough about to try to protect. It’s refreshing to see a male character that tries, and makes mistakes, and realises that he’s making a mistake, and wants to be a better person.
And as I love a good supporting character that holds pivotal key moments for the plot, Madeline Pratt is perfectly cast as the wisecracking Marcy. Anyone can see that Pratt’s Marcy is inherently a good person although she might not feel like it – which only encourages the audience to root for them more. I particularly love their duet with Rose, singing the title of the show, creating this sublime buildup before Rose closed the first act with a heartbreaking rendition of ‘Pretty Funny’. How powerful is it that Marcy practically made ‘Pretty Funny’ happen in the show. Everybody, thank Marcy.
Despite containing the show’s two most famous numbers, ‘First Date/Last Night’ and ‘Before It’s Over’, I personally feel like Act Two could have been stronger. There were moments where I wish there was more attention to details in several aspects of the show, but to be fair they could have gone easily unnoticed. I would also just like to note that there is no possibility where anyone can not feel a sense of joy from hearing the pleasant melodies of ‘First Date/Last Night’ playing in any circumstances. It was just somewhat less charged with the initial charm and familiarity the pair showcased during their first duet back in Act One. I have an inkling that these already tricky beats might be made even trickier given that the band and conductor were backstage – not somewhere the actors could see. However, this is the very charm of musical theatre to me. I somewhat love that these little fragments of imperfections give us nothing but a glimpse that people do put in a lot of hard work. It also reminds me every now and again of Pasek and Paul’s brilliance.
For one last time, though, let me just applaud Davis’ incredible performance again for her absolutely remarkable rendition of ‘Before It’s Over’. It’s always such a treat to be able to hear grounded, powerhouse vocals that take you to the skies – where you can audibly hear years of professional training under the performer’s belt and just be grateful that they did the hard work so those of us sitting in the audience can revel and be immersed in the magnificence of the culmination of their talent and hardwork.
If you’re around Naarm, Melbourne, you’ve got until the 26th November to catch Theatrical’s Dogfight at Chapel Off Chapel. It’s going to remind you about the little things that matter in life, about how we’re all just out here doing our best, inevitably making mistakes, and learning from it; and to embrace our humanity – including the shortness and therefore preciousness of it all.
Produced by Second Stage Theatre, New York, 2012. Artistic Direction by Carole Rothman, orchestrations by Michael Starobin.
Directed by Pip Mushin; assisted and choreographed by Adriana Pannuzzo. Musical direction by Tim Wilson. Produced by Theatrical. Licensed exclusively by Musical Theatre International (Australasia).