This past weekend I attended Comtra Theatre’s opening night performance of Dogfight. The show first debuted Off-Broadway in 2012 as a musical adaptation of the 1991 film of the same name. Comtra’s production is directed by Johnny Gallagher who presents a heartfelt story that is performed by a cast who exude love for the show through their performances.
Set in 1963, Dogfight follows a group of Marines on their last night in the United States before shipping off to Vietnam. They plan one last night of fun and host a “Dogfight” party, where each man will bring an “unattractive” or “unappealing” woman as their date. At the end of the night one woman will be voted as the “ugliest,” and her date will subsequently win a handful of cash. One of the women, Rose, finds out the cruel intentions of this party and leaves angrily. Her date, Eddie, feeling terrible about the whole ordeal, apologizes to Rose and invites her on a proper date. What ensues is a sweet, but ultimately doomed-to-fail love story.
Dogfight runs at Comtra’s own theatre in Cranberry that is housed in an old barn along Route 19. The barn was converted into a theatre in the round space (allows for audiences to sit on all sides of the stage), which provides a unique and intimate experience for audiences.
The size of the space does not allow for big set pieces, so Comtra cleverly uses four movable boxes (painted to look like the American flag) as their set and storage area for props and costume pieces. It’s simple, but it works perfectly for the nature of the show and allows for quicker changes between scenes. Along with the boxes, they use two screens on opposite sides of the space to project images from the 60s, which helps the audience understand the scenery, location, and era.
As an audience member, you can feel the love the cast has for this show–it resonates through their performances. The two standouts of the production are Rose and Eddie, played by Kelsey Lope and Chris Strangfeld. Their voices blend beautifully together, and they have genuine chemistry that makes their awkward little love story sweet and sincere. Strangfeld’s strengths show in numbers like, “Come Back,” where he proves he can not only hold his own in the comedic moments of the show, but the dramatic ones as well. It’s easy to love Kelsey Lope as the shy, sweet, and sometimes sassy Rose. Her voice fits the role so perfectly you would think the part was written for her. Lope’s solo numbers are one of the highlights of the production, and the heart she brings to the character is charming and endearing.
Despite the somber undertone of the show, the production features truly entertaining, show-stopping musical numbers. Act One’s “Some Kind of Time” not only has great vocals but equally great choreography. Surprisingly there are some acrobatics throughout the show, which makes the musical numbers pop. Choreographer Stephanie Seybert could have easily left the choreography to a minimum due to the small space of the theatre, but she really took the choreography to the next level and showcased the skills of this multi-talented cast.
The ballads in the production are equally as strong. Act Two’s “Give Way” is a beautiful moment that’s staging reminded me of Spring Awakening’s “I Believe.” The ensemble surrounds Rose and Eddie with candles as they share an intimate moment together, and it’s one of the more heartfelt moments of the show. I applaud the entire cast for not only delivering high energy performances, but thoughtful and moving ones as well.
Dogfight deals with difficult subject matters such as war, death, body shaming, sexism, and toxic masculinity, but Comtra Theatre handles these tastefully, and through it all unveils a beautiful message of hope and love. It’s a musical filled with friendship, love, heartbreak, and death, that ultimately leaves you with a warm feeling in your heart and a tear in your eye. It’s a beautiful show that will catch you off guard with its charm and unique likability. Filled with a brilliant cast who make the story shine, Dogfight is a show that will stick with you long after you’ve left the theatre.
Dogfight runs at Comtra Theatre through January 19. For tickets and further information, visit Comtra’s site.
Photography Credit: Johnny Gallagher and Stephanie Seybert
Jade Goodes is a graduate of Penn State University where she received her degree in English. While attending Penn State she became the Managing Editor for the school’s literary & arts magazine, Absence. Jade has been involved with the Pittsburgh theater community since elementary school, and has performed in many productions over the years. In her free time she enjoys reading and attending all the concerts she can.
Categories: Archived Reviews