The premise of "Dogfight" is so despicable that an attempt to build a love story around it seems next to impossible. No matter what else comes before or after, book writer Peter Duchan and composers and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have to deal with this issue first of all. For the most part, they pull it off, and do it with pizazz and style.
Newcomer Caitlin Brooke as Rose is so honest and fresh that her unlikely fling with Marine recruit Eddie Birdlace (Jeffrey Brian Adams) seems plausible.
The other Marines usher up a caisson-load of false bravado in advance of their mission to Vietnam which begins the following morning at Oh Five Hundred. They also sing and dance. San Francisco treasure Michael Gene Sullivan shines in all of his parts, especially as the sympathetic fellow vet riding on the bus with Eddie.
Brandon Dahlquist as Boland is particularly effective as the tough guy Marine and Andrew Humann as Bernstein is the stereotypical tough-talking little guy.
The music has fabulous moments. For us, the standout song of the show is Act Two's "First Date, Last Night," featuring Eddie and Rose, which is the one moment where the music brings us to the truth we seek in this romance. Other great songs include "Nothing Short of Wonderful," sung by Rose, and the rueful "Home Hero's Ticker Tape Parade" which brings us all back to the reality of what the war in Vietnam did to so many unsuspecting vets.
Do we have problems with a show that won many honors when it debuted off-Broadway in 2012? Well, yeah. You don't get a resolution that makes much sense and that follows a premise that may in fact be a true depiction of a traditional Marine custom but kind of makes you gag. But the concept is daring and truthful. "Dogfight" tells its own story. It's not a pretty one but it's a lot of fun to watch.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Dogfight" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. Caitlin Brooke pulls off a terribly difficult role. David Lee Cuthbert's lights, English's innovative always-in-motion stage design and Tatjana Genser's costumes complement the story perfectly. We love the yellow dress.
But the BANGLE OF PRAISE has to be for Rose's Right Haymaker. Ethel Merman couldn't have done that. We could use Instant Replay.