While Second Stage Theatre's latest offering contains some intense combat, "Dogfight" is also a play on the slang word for an unattractive female. The premise is that three close-knit buddies and two acquaintances, all Vietnam-bound marines, compete to see who can bring the ugliest girl to a party on their last night in the states. It's a problematic setup with a high predictability factor. And the musical fails to overcome the challenges inherent in its basic premise.
It's no surprise that flawed hero Eddie (Derek Klena) ends up caring about his date, diner waitress Rose (Lindsay Mendez). Nor is it unexpected when Rose discovers the truth and storms out, only to be pursued by her date -- whom she of course forgives before agreeing to stay with him for the rest of the night.
Eddie's subsequent reunion with his buddies is less predictable. Suffice it to say his redemption is compromised, and the war scenes that follow -- while tautly staged by director Joe Mantello -- don't strike home given our ambivalence about these young warriors.
Although the music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul falls prey to sameness, it also has interesting harmonies and a drive that's infectious. Mendez is especially affecting as Rose, and Klena is strong as Eddie. The singing is excellent throughout. But "Dogfight" doesn't rise above its initial mean-spiritedness. We may, like Rose, ultimately forgive Eddie; but it's hard to forget what curs he and his friends have been.
Second Stage Theatre
305 W. 43rd Street,