Ghostlight Records has released the latest musical from the up-and-coming team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songsters behind the Tony nominated musical, "A Christmas Story," and the "Hit List" music from NBC's "Smash." "Dogfight" is a modern take on the classic Leonard Bernstein / Comden and Green / Jerome Robbins musical, "On The Town," which gives us a lighthearted glimpse into the goings on of servicemen on shore leave. The World War II naval uniforms have been changed into the marines, the war is now Vietnam, and the overall flavor is more reflective of the armed conflict, but the boys in uniform are still on land for a day to see what kind of mischief they can get into with the ladies.
This time around, the boys place bar wagers on a "dogfight," where the soldier who finds the most unattractive woman wins the money. But, of course, when Eddie Birdlace (honestly played by Derek Klena, of the MCC recent production of "Carrie") meets Rose (Lindsay Mendez, a vocal powerhouse whose star deserves its continuing rise), Pasek and Paul, along with bookwriter Peter Duchan, create the requisite dose of sincerity so that we care about the fate of the couple not only during the evening, but after the evening is over. We certainly never had those feelings for Frank Sinatra or Gene Kelly after they sang the Bernstein standard, "Some Other Time."
There are certainly musical highlights on this recording. Pasek and Paul have proven themselves at being able to balance contemporary and traditional themes to form melodies that will appeal to the young musical theater fan, as well as the older generations of listeners. It doesn't hurt to have such a talented group of singers to deliver the score. Mendez ("Godspell," "35MM") is captivating on the solo, "Nothing Short of Wonderful," and her duet with 2013 Tony nominee, Annaleigh Ashford ("Kinky Boots," "Wicked," "Legally Blonde") on the title track harmonically smacks you in the head, with Ashford playing the savvy prostitute who explains to the naïve Mendez why the two woman are really in the bar.
Klena is joined by his buddies in uniform on several expository songs ("Some Kinda Time," "Hey Good Lookin'"), allowing them to place the tale in context (and provide the comic relief), but it's Mendez' pipes that sell this album. Pasek and Paul need to make sure she appears on all their cast recordings.
"Dogfight (Original Cast Recording)"
Benj Pasek / Justin Paul
CD and digital formats