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Benj Pasek & Justin Paul may well win a Tony Award this year for their music and lyrics for Dear Evan Hansen. But the songwriting team first gained New York notice with their 2012 Off-Broadway production, Dogfight. The musical is based on a memorable early 90’s film, which starred River Phoenix and Lily Taylor.

It’s 1963, and Eddie Birdlace (Payson Lewis) and his friends, Boland (Spencer Strong Swift) and Bernstein (Trent Mills) are fresh out of Marine Corps basic training. They have one night in San Francisco before they ship out to Vietnam. Direct descendants of the On the Town trio, the boys are looking for fun, girls, and to get identical tattoos.

Each of them has put money into a kitty for the Dogfight, a cruel game that rewards the cash to the Marine who brings the ugliest girl to a party in a local bar. All three scour the streets looking for the ultimate “dog.”

Eddie meets Rose (Nicci Claspell) in a diner and invites her to the party. Unused to male attention, Rose is eager to go. Boland, the guy who works every angle, has found himself a ringer in working girl, Marcy (Emily Morris). As the dogfight plays out, the marines and the unwitting competitors drink too much, and lines blur. Truths are told, allegiances are tested, and virginities discarded. If the set-up sounds harsh, the balance of the show moves from sweet to gently sad.

Peter Duchan’s book gracefully translates the qualities of the film to the stage. Pasek and Paul (they both share credit for music and lyrics) have crafted an emotionally resonant score that enhances the quick-paced story. Their lyrics are filled with character and dramatically apt. As young composers still finding their voices, the score offers telling clues to their musical influences. Sharp-eared audience members will find echoes of Stephen Sondheim and, especially, Adam Guettel.

Lewis nicely portrays Eddie’s tough-guy exterior, but he wins over the audience by cracking the veneer and revealing the innocent boy beneath. Claspell’s Rose is too pretty to be entirely believable, but she plays the role with warmth and a strong hint of the capable woman Rose will become. The two have an easy chemistry that makes us care for them.

The handsome Smith finds a little humanity behind Boland’s wheeling and dealing, while Mills is a charmer as the rambunctious country boy who’s excited to see the world. Morris’ bad girl brings an interesting color to the story, and her delivery of the title song is a musical highlight.

Jenifer Strattan and Jennifer Oundjian share the directing duties, and Oundjian also choreographs. The staging for most of the musical numbers is strong, but there are important dramatic moments which feel strangely muted. And there is at least one number in which the choreography completely upstages the action.

The musical elements are beautifully realized by music director Elmo Zapp and his band. But the sound balance favors the music, making the actors difficult to hear at times.

Even with these caveats, Dogfight is a strong entry from a talented, young company, and I look forward to their next production.

Hudson Mainstage    June 2 – June 25, 2017



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.