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Theater Review: 'Dogfight' -- 2.5 stars

Nick Blaemire, Derek Klena, and Josh Seggara in

Nick Blaemire, Derek Klena, and Josh Seggara in "Dogfight" (Joan Marcus) Credit: Nick Blaemire, Derek Klena, and Josh Seggara in "Dogfight" (Joan Marcus)

2.5 stars

"Dogfight," a delicate 1991 flick starring Lili Taylor and the late River Phoenix, probably didn't need to be turned into a musical, but that didn't stop some young and very promising writers from trying anyway.

The film explores a trio of very excited Marines who enjoy their last night of freedom in San Francisco of 1963 before being shipped off to Vietnam by taking part in a vicious, disturbing and misogynistic ritual.

As penned by composer-lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and book-writer Peter Duchan, it proves to be an intimate, somewhat well-crafted musical that uneasily alternates uneasily between two competing styles as it faithfully follows the film's plot.

First, there's a testosterone-injected boisterousness for the men, who are holding a contest to see which recruit can bring the ugliest date to a dance (hence the title "Dogfight"). This uninhibited male energy, which consumes most of Act One, can be quite captivating and theatrical.

On the other hand, it offers a folksy, sincere tone for the unexpected romance that eventually blooms between the conflicted male protagonist Eddie (Derek Klena) and his date Rose (Lindsay Mendez), an acoustic guitar-playing waitress.

While the later part of the show is certainly more romantic and uplifting, it proves to be so slow and sentimental that it turns Act Two into a flat, unending bore.

Director Joe Mantello, who has staged countless shows including "Wicked," provides a polished staging that is spiced up with dynamic choreography from Christopher Gattelli ("Newsies"), excellent orchestrations by Michael Starobin and a cool set design by David Zinn.

Mendez, whose has stood out smaller roles in previous musicals with her very strong singing voice, is the real treasure of this production, bringing a believably tender and innocent edge to Rose.

If you go: "Dogfight" plays at Second Stage Theatre through Aug. 12. 305 W. 43rd St., 212-246-4422,

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