By HOLLY JOHNSON
It’s a touching, tuneful musical by Tony-nominated songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, which premiered in New York in 2012.
Based on the well-received 1991 film of the same title, the intimate musical “Dogfight” is currently in production at CoHo Theatre, produced by Staged!. The space may be intimate, but the backdrop of the story is anything but as the Portland premiere of this show spills out on the smallish yet effective stage in Northwest Portland. It’s 1963, and the eve of an important deployment to Vietnam, one that three young Marines are headed for.
They cover their fear of the unknown with false bravado, as some of the earlier high-energy macho-spirited numbers display.
It’s a touching, tuneful musical by Tony-nominated songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, which premiered in New York in 2012. Just when you think there’s maybe too much schmaltz in the songs—this is a romance, after all—the sobering theme of that awful war anchors the material, giving it weight, giving it punch.
The night before their deployment, Birdlace, Bernstein and Boland plan a party of the worst taste, where whomever invites the ugliest woman to the dance wins some money in true Dogfight tradition. It backfires, though, when Eddie falls for Rose, an introverted song writer who plays political folk music on her guitar. She scarcely in the ugly category. And something happens between these two unlikely matched people. Not hot romance, exactly, but an emotional understanding with love and friendship combined.
The two leads are very good, Max Artsis as Marine corporal Eddie Birdlace, and Barbara Marie, who plays the shy Rose that he meets the eve of departure. Pasek and Paul know enough about sixties music to imitate the sound to some extent (Salim Sanchez is most impressive as a solo crooner with a Motown touch). But those of us who lived through that era might wish for a bit more of the angry sounds to come, acid-rock style.
The young chorus also deserves a hand, and as Eddie’s high-energy pals, Danny Walker as Bernstein and Ryan Monaghan as Boland add much to the evening.
Staged! Is a Portland company who nurtures student actors and designers. For the first time the company focuses on living writers and composers. The fine accompanying musical trio who plays onstage under Eric Nordin’s excellent direction also includes young up-and-coming talents
Paul Angelo directs with a loving touch. Company artistic director is Chanda Hall.
The show, enhanced by some astute, economical choreography by Kristen Mun, plays through Nov. 29 at CoHo, 2257 NW Raleigh. There is no performance on Thanksgiving day. General admission is $15-$29. .More info here or call 971-322-5723.