by Hiko Mitsuzuka @TheFirstEcho

DOGFIGHT - 8

PHOTO CREDIT: Nicole Priest

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songwriting team behind the Academy Award-winning La La Land and the Tony-nominated Dear Evan Hansen, are also responsible for a lesser-known musical that premiered at New York’s Second Stage Theatre back in 2012, well before the pair cozied up to Oscar and became the toast of Broadway. And now, it’s currently wooing audiences in Los Angeles the Hudson Theatres.

Based on the 1991 film starring River Phoenix, Dogfight takes place in 1963 San Francisco and focuses on three young Marines on the eve of their deployment to the growing conflict in Vietnam. During their final boys’ night out in the city, hotheaded Corporal Eddie Birdlace (the fantastic Payson Lewis) meets the awkward yet idealistic Rose (a captivating Nicci Claspell), a waitress whom he enlists to win a cruel bet with his fellow recruits, unaware that she’s about to teach him a few things about the power of love and compassion.

Diehard fans of Pasek and Paul’s music will undoubtedly pick up on the resemblances between some of Dogfight‘s numbers and those from their most recent musical achievements that are capturing the zeitgeist. “First Date, Last Night” will carry echoes of “A Lovely Night” for anyone currently obsessed with the La La Land soundtrack just as “Come to a Party” will tickle the musical sensibilities of anyone familiar with Dear Evan Hansen‘s piano pop.

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One of two show-stoppers includes the titular song at the end of Act One, beautifully performed by Claspell and a scene-stealing Emily Morris, who plays the blunt prostitute Marcy, offering Rose a harsh reality check. The other belongs to Lewis, an L.A. theater favorite, who commands the stage during “Come Back,” a heartbreaking closer that stretches his powerhouse vocals to the point of no return.

The production, sharply directed by Jennifer Strattan and choreographer Jennifer Oundjian, is an impressive achievement given the confines of the 99-seat Hudson Mainstage Theatre. However, with its period-specific, anti-war sentiment, semi-relatable characters, and a romance that runs a little lukewarm, Dogfight, in the end, may not carry the resonance musical theater geeks are looking for in their next obsession.

Spencer Strong Smith and Emily Morris in the AFTER HOURS THEATRE COMPANY production of "DOGFIGHT," now playing at the HUDSON MAINSTAGE THEATRE in Hollywood. PHOTO CREDIT: Nicole Priest

Spencer Strong Smith and Emily Morris in the AFTER HOURS THEATRE COMPANY production of “DOGFIGHT,” now playing at the HUDSON MAINSTAGE THEATRE in Hollywood. PHOTO CREDIT: Nicole Priest

Performances are now running through June 25 at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre in Los Angeles.

About The Author

Hiko Mitsuzuka
Entertainment Editor-at-Large

Hiko Mitsuzuka is a self-proclaimed pop culture connoisseur who resides in L.A. and obsesses over songs months before everyone else obsesses over them. He has worked in TV and commercial production ever since he left his native New York in the early aughts. He has worked at the world-renowned Anonymous Content and Carsey-Werner and freelanced as a treatment writer for award-winning directors as well as a contributing writer for 'Instinct.' In addition to writing about entertainment and travel for 'Bello,' Hiko inhabits the role of Manager of Creative Planning at Stun Creative (PromaxBDA's North America Agency of the Year, 2013 & 2014). He's also currently working on the novel 'Slasher Movie Girl.' His obsessions include quoting old sitcom dialogue and stalking people on Instagram. His weaknesses include chocolate chip cookies and movie theater popcorn. Tweet him @TheFirstEcho.

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