Stage 62’s upcoming production, Dogfight is raising a lot of questions. I needed to know what the musical is really about and why anyone invested in local theater arts should not miss it. I spent an evening with Dogfight producer, Heather Friedman. In addition to producing Dogfight, Friedman is spearheading a major social media campaign with one goal in mind; to introduce musical enthusiasts to a unique and beautiful show.
Dogfight began as a little-known film, written by former Marine, Bob Comfort, and released by Warner Bros. in 1991. The indie film stars River Phoenix as young Marine Eddie Birdlace, and Lili Taylor as Rose, a shy and somewhat frumpy waitress. Adapted for stage by screenwriter/ playwright Peter Duchan, the musical does not deviate much from the film. The story begins and ends in 1967, and is told through a series of flashbacks from events 1963. Private First Class Birdlace and his Marine buddies, the Three Bee’s, cook up some excitement on their last day stateside, before shipping out to Southeast Asia. The soldiers, organize a bet; a Dogfight. Each guys throws in $50 and the one whose date is voted ugliest wins the pot. Birdlace invites Rose as his date, but has a quick change of heart, but not quick enough before Rose discovers his true intentions.
Speaking to Dogfight director, Rob James, I asked, “Why Dogfight”? His answer was simple, “The music”. The music is what drove an abundance of performers to Stage 62 for auditions. You may have never heard of this show, but that isn’t a reason not to come. Friedman revealed, during February auditions, a total of 62 people tried out for just 12 roles. That’s incredibly impressive for such an obscure show. Those in the know, know Dogfight is pretty darn special and Friedman admits, “It’s softer than it sounds. It has heart”.
Dogfight’s music and lyrics are written by Pasek & Paul, the team responsible for Tony Award winner, Dear Evan Hansen, and the Academy Award winning score for The Greatest Showman. Pasek & Paul followers, who admire their modern scores, will be both surprised and delighted with Dogfight. This score incorporates the same enchanting lyrics Pasek & Paul fans have come to expect but Dogfight is heavily influenced by the era; incorporating folk melodies and even an easy listening lounge act song. As Friedman and I spoke, the cast, rehearsing in the next room, was captivating. Admittedly, I’ve started listening to the soundtrack on YouTube.
Dogfight is a wave of nostalgia, it’s a sliver of history come to life through music, song and dance. Friedman explained, like many modern musicals, Dogfight is character driven; just explaining the plot won’t do the show justice. There is a lot of character growth but this growth accompanies elements that might make an audience member uncomfortable. In our #metoo culture, it may be difficult for some viewers to understand the performance is a look- back, a snippet of time, when certain behaviors were socially accepted. Whether addressing gender roles, or the perceived innocence of society, as boys prepare to embark across the sea for a growing military conflict, these chronicles will undoubtedly be challenging for some people. However, Dogfight is also a love story. Friedman assured me, “it isn’t cheesy”, “it’s about 2 people trying to find common ground”. The audience will be witnessing a man at the mercy of a misogynist culture and a woman trapped at the threshold of female liberalized America. Both Birdlace and Rose are pawns, on opposite ends of the board, during some of the most politically tumultuous times our country has collectively experienced. This is heavy stuff for a musical. Friedman agrees, “It’s raw, but the love story makes up for it’s rawness”.
Dogfight debuts at Stage 62 in Carnegie, PA Thursday to Saturday, May 10-12 and 17-19 at 8 pm and Sunday matinees May 13 and 20th at 2 pm.
Tickets can be bought online www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3350219
Photos courtesy of Stage 62.