Arts Reviews Muse

REVIEW: CHMS' 'Dogfight'

Patrick Walker on the success of the musical's opening night

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Image Credit: Luke Snell

CHMS’ second musical of the term, Dogfight, is a timeless, well-produced interpretation of the original score, with a great band, and two incredibly strong leads.

Since its British premier in 2014, Dogfight has been climbing the ranks of great American musicals. Despite being based on a 1991 film of the same name, the show still has a lot to say about America’s modern military culture, and problematic contrasts between genders. Perhaps deliberately, many of the costumes have a timeless feel. The play gradually reveals that its many moral lessons are relevant and still worth telling.

It opens on a challenge between several marines: score the ugliest girl to take to a party, the ‘dogfight’, and win the pot of money. The rest of the show follows the lead, Eddie Birdlace, as he tries to win his chosen girl back after she realises she has been tricked.

The highlight for many will be Dogfight’s unmissable score, under the musical direction of Jack Askew. The upbeat numbers have a really refreshing quality when compared to the reliable classics that musical theatre-goers have been hearing for years, and numbers like ‘Some Kinda Time’ are sure to become clear hits. In more serious moments, the music also knows when to hold back, delivering tension, and poise.

Unsurprisingly, the show rests heavily on the excellent musical performances by the two leads: Jess Field as Rose, and Adam Lambe as Eddie. Both clearly have great technical singing talent, and solo numbers like ‘Pretty Funny’, and ‘Come Back’ were particular high points. Their ‘First Date’ duet was the highlight of the show for me, and most of the audience was silently gripped from the moment it began.

Director Anna Gallon has clearly gone for a naturalistic style with the production. The Studio space gave the cast freedom to be much more precise with movement and acting. Dialogue is occasionally lost behind American accents, but the play’s jokes landed really well in the small theatre.

The choreography tends to avoid all-out dancing, preferring smaller movements to suit the feel of the production. The set design struck me as quite minimalist, but it makes very good use of the limited space in the tiny theatre, cramming a bed and a dining table onto the stage. The use of rope and fairy lights led to a lightning-fast scene change and an idyllically romantic scene reminiscent of La La Land: not a surprise, considering Dogfight shares some of the film’s original composers, and a few key themes.

The show is an excellent portrayal of the difficulties faced by women in the modern world, but the direction allows the audience to focus on men too, and the irresistible social pressure men find themselves under to be part of a tribe, and above all, to not share their emotion. Owen Butcher and Will Harvey do a good job providing a contrast to the lead man’s more thoughtful dialogue.

America’s militaristic culture is also under heavy fire, and the play’s best moments develop as the two leads try and meet each other halfway. Eddie learns to be kinder, and to handle his newfound authority carefully, whilst Rose slowly becomes more confident and talkative. I really loved this slow development of its two main characters. Most musicals avoid gradual change because it’s harder to pull off, but Dogfight handles it well.

Many of the issues in the show stem from the limits of the space given to Dogfight, with its smaller cast and budget. The band is too loud in the confined space, and those sitting a few rows back, as I was, will struggle to catch each line. The cast seemed like they were fighting the music sometimes, and this also resulted in some occasional issues with pitching as soloists tried to properly project.

Overall, however, Dogfight was a great contrast to Chicago, and really managed to exploit the advantages of a small space. Nouse encourages readers to take advantage of on-the-door sales over the next few days, to see a show that will undoubtedly see itself rise to become a musical theatre classic.

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