The new Off-Broadway musical Dogfight, based on the 1991 film directed by Nancy Savoca, opened at Second Stage last night to mixed but generally positive reviews. For the record, the creative team includes Peter Duchan (book), Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (lyrics, music), Joe Mantello (direction), Christopher Gattelli (choreography), David Zinn (sets, costumes), Paul Gallo (lights), Fitz Patton (sound), Joshua Marquette (hair), Bryan Perri (music direction), Michael Starobin (orchestrations). The cast includes Annaleigh Ashford (Marcy), Becca Ayers (Mama), Nick Blaemire (Bernstein), Steven Booth (Gibbs), Dierdre Friel (Chippy), Adam Halpin (Stevens), F. Michael Haynie (Fector), Derek Klena (Eddie Birdlace), Lindsay Mendez (Rose Fenny), James Moye (Lounge Singer), and Josh Segarra (Boland).
Ben Brantley (N.Y. Times): For a show with a snarling title, Dogfight is surprisingly docile. This intimate, carefully tended new musical … takes on some of the nastier aspects of rowdy young servicemen stewing in testosterone, including a woman-humiliating ritual that gives the work its name. Yet even when its boys behave badly – really badly –Dogfight proceeds in a melancholy, tuneful and slightly hesitant trickle that seems to be apologizing for any unpleasantness. … Dogfight finds feet that match its heart only when it settles into a sweet, old-fashioned love story. … There’s a lovely self-conscious chemistry between Ms. Mendez and Mr. Klena. They generate a soft-pedaled, beguilingly clumsy charm in the second act, in which an abashed Eddie returns to Rose to apologize and winds up falling in love. Here, Mr. Pasek and Mr. Paul have written a winning low-key date song for the couple, finding melodic grace in romantic awkwardness. … Dogfight is obviously happiest when it can focus on lovers instead of fighters.
Eric Haagensen (Back Stage): If I were a religious man, I’d have gotten down on my knees and offered a prayer of heavenly thanks after seeing the wholly wonderful new musical Dogfight. … Dogfight is superbly crafted, gratifyingly intelligent, richly observant, and immensely enjoyable. This is musical theater at its finest. … Derek Klena and Lindsay Mendez are strong actor-singers and convey detail and nuance through the musical theater’s equivalent of the close-up: the songs. And what songs they are. … It’s extremely rare these days to encounter new writers working with such confidence and ability. … Their achievement demands recognition, and Dogfight deserves a long and healthy life on Broadway.
Brian Scott Lipton (Theater Mania): The result is a surprisingly moving experience that, by and large, transcends its sometimes clichéd and predictable plot. … Ultimately, though, none of this would be quite so affecting without the work of Klena, who keeps us engaged with Birdlace even in his most despicable moments, and especially Mendez, blessed with a glorious voice and an unerring instinct for veracity that combines for a truly star-making performance. Without question, this winning actress is the real victor in this Dogfight.
David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter): Further workshops or perhaps a regional production might be useful to smooth some nagging flaws, particularly in the uneven second act. But the potential is there. … The early establishing songs here by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are tuneful and engaging, choreographed with verve by Christopher Gattelli, fresh from his Tony win for Newsies. But there’s a worrying sense of guys-will-be-guys indulgence. The writers seem uncertain about how to balance the comedy with the inhumanity of the Marines’ behavior. … The show is on firmest ground when Eddie and Rose are center stage. The characters are drawn with subtle details, and there’s real vulnerability and yearning in the performances of Klena and Mendez. … Beyond Mantello’s visceral staging of the Vietnam combat sequence, the evocation of the period and its momentous cultural shifts is a little feeble. … If the show is not quite there yet, it’s an intriguing piece with plenty of strong elements on which to build.
Linda Winer (Newsday): Dogfight … crossbreeds a handful of well-worn plot strands into a familiar pattern. And yet, for all the old-time predictability of the wartime setup and the shoehorned topicality of a message about bullying, the show turns into an intimate little heartbreaker of beguiling freshness. … The musical introduces a strong young cast – especially Lindsay Mendez and Derek Klena – that juggles toughness and innocence as if this were easy. And very good news is the songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.