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DOGFIGHT fails to live up to Beck-Baldwin Wallace past productions

DOGFIGHT fails to live up to Beck-Baldwin Wallace past productions

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Beck Center for the Arts and Baldwin Wallace’s Musical Theatre Program have, for the past four years, collaborated to produce some outstanding productions.  CARRIE, SPRING AWAKENING and NEXT TO NORMAL all received Cleveland Critic Circle and Times Tribute recognitions.

Unfortunately, this year’s offering, DOGFIGHT, probably won’t get such attention.  It’s not that the production is bad, but it is cursed with a weak script, with lines that seem forced and unnatural, and an inconsistent, often repetitive musical score which includes five reprises.

DOGFIGHT, the musical, is based on the 1991 Warner Brothers film of the same name.  It concerns a group of young marines who are in San Francisco on the eve of their deployment to Vietnam.  Their goal is having fun, partying, and getting sex.

The highlight of their exit into war is to be a dog fight, a contest where each of the marines brings a “dog,” an ugly girl, to a bar for a contest to judge who is the ugliest. The guy who brings the “winner” gets a cash prize.

In his search, Eddie Birdlace comes upon Rose, a nerdy, plain-Jane, sweet young lady working at a diner.  He asks her on a “date” without revealing that she is going to be his candidate in the “dog fight.”

The tale becomes complex when the contest takes place. Rose realizes that rather than being on a date, she is a victim of a hoax.  Eddie recognizes his cruelty and tries to make it up to Rose by taking her on a real date, which ends with the duo going to bed together.  In the morning, as he leaves for duty, he promises to write Rose, but fails to do so, because his buddies taunt him.

The story is revealed in a flash-back/flash-forward format, in which the broken and disillusioned Eddie returns 4 years later, searches for Rose, reveals his feelings for her, and relates that his buddies were killed in battle.

The soap-opera like book was written by Peter Duchan.  The major flaw is the lack of natural speech he affords the cast to speak.  The script tends to be composed of forced and trite language, rather than a natural flowing vocabulary.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have written some nice songs, but they are sometimes shoe-horned into the script, often without purpose.  Highlight songs are “Nothing Short of Wonderful,” “Pretty Funny,” “Before It’s Over,” and “Come Back.”

The Beck/BW production, under the direction of Victoria Bussert, flows well and has some nice moments.

Besides the problematic script, the young students simply don’t seem to be real, to be natural in characterization development.  They generally act the roles, rather than creating real characters.  They aren’t bad, just not up to the usual BW Musical Theatre standards.

Colton Ryan has a nice boyish look and sings well as Eddie Birdlace.  Unfortunately, he seems to stay on the surface, feigning, rather than being absorbed in creating the needed conflicts between machismo, sensitivity, and remorse.  Eddie seems to be more Colton, than Eddie.

Keri René Fuller has a fine singing voice, and develops a most consistent and real person as Rose.  She appears to be the most advanced person in the cast in the race to Broadway.  (Over a dozen BW grads appeared on the Great White Way this past season.)

Zack Adkins is consistent in development of the smarmy Boland, but his overacting becomes taxing after a while.  There is little texturing, just a lot of snarling and yelling.

Micky Ryan stays on the surface as Bernstein.  Gabriel Brown has a chance to show off his gym-sculpted body and fine dance moves as Stevens .  Jamie Koeth sings well as the Lounge Singer.

The choreography is mainly stomping and marching, done with various degrees of quality.  The singing is generally good, but some of the cast sing words, rather than meanings.  Musical Director Dave Pepin keeps the orchestra under control so that they nicely underscore rather than drown out the singers.

Scenic Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski had the difficult task of creating a set that constantly was switching locales.  She did a masterful job in cramming all those settings into the postage sized space of Beck’s arena theatre.

On the night I saw the show there were numerous squeals and popping sounds in the sound system.  One might question why, in such a small space, there was even a need for microphones, and why, after two weeks of performances there were still sound issues.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The production agreement between Beck Center and the Baldwin Wallace Musical Theatre program has produced some outstanding productions.  Though it is not bad, DOGFIGHT is not of the quality of the duo’s previous stagings.

DOGFIGHT is scheduled to run through March 15, 2015  at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or