Just to put it up front: “Dogfight” is a musical with a book by Peter Duchan and a score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. I mention this because their names are mentioned nowhere on the program for OFC Productions’ Fringe Festival presentation. Seeing “Dogfight,” you might well wonder who wrote it, because Duchan, Pasek, and Paul turned out a pretty decent musical, which was an Off-Broadway hit in 2012 and has been widely produced since then. (Pasek and Paul went on to even bigger things, namely "La La Land," "Dear Evan Hansen," and "The Greatest Showman.")
The show, set in 1963, tells the story of three Marine buddies who are being shipped out to Vietnam. The night before they leave they go out for one last night of revelry, and also make a bet (the ”dogfight” of the title): the one who scores the ugliest girl as a date wins. Eddie Birdlace (Chandler Tan) winds up with a waitress named Rose (Anne Olivia Cincotta). When she learns of the bet, she angrily rejects Eddie; but when he apologizes they reconcile and end up spending the night together. Eddie leaves with his Marine buddies and is the only one to survive Vietnam. When he comes back home, Rose is still there for him.
The story is part nasty, part sentimental, but it is genuinely touching. Pasek and Paul’s score presents the characters so well that even as a succession of songs this version of “Dogfight” is a coherent show. The songs are partly reminiscences of early-60s pop, partly rather Sondheimy numbers that are more dramatic than lyrical. It’s not all that memorable, really, but it is a very effective theater score, with the two best solos given to the female lead (very sound musical theater thinking).
The production is utterly simple – basically a bare stage, some props, and a ton of energy from a cast of about 25 middle and high school students. Johnson keeps them moving almost constantly in the different areas the Lyric Theatre Cabaret Space offers. The talent spectrum is wide, but the enthusiasm is consistent. The leads are appealing: Chandler Tan may not play a jerk very effectively, but once Eddie has his comeuppance Tan is much more believable. Anne Olivia Cincotta is already quite a convincing actress, and she’s got a vibrant, powerful voice just made for musicals. I’m sure she’ll be seen in many more of them – as will Carolyn Gnage, who plays one of the other “dogs” with gusto.
“Dogfight: The Musical” will be performed Sunday, September 15 at 7 p.m. and Friday, September 20 at 7 p.m. at Lyric Theatre: Cabaret Hall. $13, Appropriate for ages 13 or older.