Based on the movie of the same name, Dogfight follows the story of self-proclaimed ‘jarhead’ Eddie Birdlace (Jamie Muscato) and his marine buddies as they set out to find the most ugly looking date to take to the local dogfight. But Birdlace’s date, the young and naïve Rose (Laura Jane Matthewson), makes a lasting impression on him and the pair try again on a date.
The general synopsis of it alone might be enough to put you off, but try not to be deterred – Dogfight has the magical aura of an old Broadway classic. It’s fun, catchy and surprisingly very fresh considering the source material. The book by Peter Duchan is quite loyal to the 1991 movie, but it really is the music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul that keep the musical interesting. Although it might not exactly be the type of music you would picture for a bunch of meatheads like the marines, you still find yourself bopping along and taking it all in.
The second act proves to be much more favourable than the first, mainly down to the fact that the story has much more at stake now. We see Rose and Eddie trying to make a go of it before he gets shipped off to Vietnam, which surprisingly works out well for the total opposites. Although only a little bit of the war is shown, we feel the absolute devastation. Our hats have to go off to the production staff for this scene too, because to capture a war setting like that would usually require a lot of work, but they use the minimal setting they are in to full advantage.
The leads really do still your heart in this performance. Dogfight is Matthewson’s first professional role, and her fresh-faced approach to the performance really pays off as Rose. Muscato also captures the role of Eddie perfectly, giving that perfect River Phoenix-esque swagger to the hard-faced Birdlace. His performance in ‘Come Back’ brings much-needed emotion to the piece, and he really does give it his all. But the person who steals the show for us is Rebecca Trehearn as Marcy. Her vocals in ‘Dogfight’ are something else, and she can definitely hold her own against her off-West End counterparts. If there is a reason for an official London cast album, it is for her.
Dogfight might not have the budget of a big Broadway show, but it brought the heart and soul of it to south east London. Over the last few months we have seen off-West End venues take a chance on musicals, but none have been as welcoming as Southwark Playhouse. There is no doubt that their success with the hidden gems will continue with Dogfight.
Dogfight is playing at Southwark Playhouse until 13 September. For more information and tickets, see the Southwark Playhouse website.