CEDAR RAPIDS - For a show with a heartless premise, "Dogfight" is a love story full of heart and soul, and I fell in love with it during the musical's Midwest premiere Thursday night (10/23/14) at CSPS.

The Corridor's new Revival Theatre Company came out swinging with its first production, "Children of Eden," staged in September on Brucemore's outdoor stage. The professional troupe builds on that momentum with "Dogfight."

We're lucky this little-known 2012 off-Broadway musical has made its way to Eastern Iowa.

Based on a 1991 film starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, it's the story of a group of Marines in 1963, determined to kick up some dust in San Francisco the night before shipping out to Vietnam. They propose to stage a dogfight, a time-honored tradition in which they vie for a cash prize by bringing the ugliest date to a dance. Of course, the girls don't realize they're the butt of a cruel prank, thus setting the stage for the rejection and redemption of the one soldier with a conscious.

The success of this show lies squarely on the shoulders of Paige Hauer, who made everyone in Thursday's capacity crowd fall in love with her long before Jackson Bartelme's soldier, Eddie Birdlace, breaks her heart.

Hauer is sweet every naive step of the way, as her Rose, a waitress in her mother's cafe, wrestles with accepting a date from a customer she has just met. Her brain says no, but her heart wins out, and off she goes, sporting her best bouffant hairdo and maroon dress.

Rose is totally over the moon for this dreamy first date with a dreamy Marine. He quickly realizes his folly and tries to steer her away from the party, only to fall prey to peer pressure from his buddies and put her in the spotlight.

What saves this crucial scene is the humor director Brian Glick and his top-notch band of actors breathe into their characters. Susan Scharnau is utterly hilarious as a drunken rag doll being spun around the dance floor, while Sara Maslowski stays stone-faced as Ruth Two Bears, dancing with her Marine like junior high kids, holding each other at arm's length. Amy Stoner plays her toothless hooker with snark, sass and torn fishnet stockings.

We don't like the men well enough to praise them in this scene. Their moment comes earlier with the raucous abandon of "Some Kinda Time," where they embrace with abandon the spirit and athleticism of Lovar David Kidd's visceral choreography.

All 11 cast members are strong singers and expert actors, able to balance playwright Peter Duchan's darkness with the strategically placed humor that keeps the show afloat.

Two other scenes are especially mesmerizing. I've never seen a love scene more innocent and lovely than when Bartelme and Hauer tiptoe into an awkward, ardent embrace. And the combat scene near the end of the show is one of the most wonderfully staged fights I've seen, with lighting, sound and action piercing viewers' hearts.

A huge round of applause also goes to music director Cameron Sullenberger and his all-star orchestra, who bring this rock 'n' roll score to vibrant life. Scenic designer Joshua Christoffersen has created a versatile unit set that easily shifts locales, aided by Cassie Malmquist's lighting design and Gerard Estella's sound design. Period costumes and props are spot-on, as well.

More chairs were added to accommodate the overflow opening night audience. Do not wait to buy your tickets. This show only runs through Sunday, and it would be a shame to miss it. Be warned, however, that the script is peppered with profanity, which also spins out one of the funniest dinner scenes since Harry met Sally.


WHAT: Revival Theatre Company: "Dogfight"

WHERE: CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids

WHEN: Through Sunday (10/26); 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday

RATED: PG-13 for strong language

TICKETS: $25 advance, $30 door, (319) 364-1580 or Legionarts.org

DETAILS: Revivaltheatrecompany.com