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'Dogfight' musical adaptation opens Off-Broadway

'Dogfight' musical adaptation opens Off-Broadway

By Michelle Houle

The musical adaptation of the 1991 film Dogfight opened at Off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre on July 16. This stage production is directed by two-time Tony Award winning Joe Mantello. A former actor, Mantello played Louis Ironson in the original Broadway production of "Angels in America." Mantello is best known for directing "Wicked" and "Assassins" on Broadway.

Other Broadway veterans round out the creative team. Musical theater songwriting team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul provide the music and lyrics. Pasek and Paul, recipients of the 2007 Jonathan Larson Award, composed music and lyrics for "Edges," "James and the Giant Peach," and "A Christmas Story: the Musical!." "Newsies" Tony Award winner Christopher Gatelli prepared the choreography and Peter Duchan penned the book.

"Dogfight" stars Lindsay Mendez and Derek Klena. Mendez recently appeared in "Godspell" and Klena appeared in the musical adaptation of "Carrie." Other cast members of this musical include Annaleigh Ashford, Josh Segarra, Dierdre Friel, Becca Ayers, Steven Booth, Adam Halpin, F. Michael Haynie, Nick Blaermire, and James Moye. The Washington Post writes of Annaleigh Ashford, "very close to stealing every scene."

Matthew Murray of TalkinBroadway.com wrote about the stage chemistry of Klena and Mendez. He stated, "Klena (recently seen as Tommy in Carrie) and Mendez display superb chemistry that blooms as Birdlace and Rose build (and occasionally break) bonds of trust; their relationship develops so gradually and so smoothly, you may be pardoned for not figuring out whether they're in love before they do."

Klena credited his real life friendship with co-star Mendez to giving the production its spark. In an interview on Broadway.com Klena stated, "We can share almost anything with each other." He also said, "I've been lucky enough to move out here and be part of two great productions with great groups of people, so I've never really felt homesick or lonely…It's a great job to be in musical theater because you get to go to work with your best friends."

River Phoenix and Lili Taylor were the leads in the 1991 film. Set on the eve of the Kennedy assassination on November 21, 1963, Dogfight chronicles the story of a Marine named Eddie Birdlace. Before shipping out to Vietnam, Birdlace and his friends make a bet: The man who finds the ugliest girl to take out on a date wins a cash prize. On his date with Mendez's character, Birdlace discovers compassion and voices his fears about war. The show explores the themes of masculinity in the 1960's, misogyny, the homecoming of soldiers, and the loss of innocence.

The Washington Post said "Dogfight" "is a sweet show studded with impressive songs from a deservedly up-and-coming duo…it never loses its genuine and charming soul." The Associated Press also stated, "Pasek and Paul show real maturity and variety in their songs." Thom Geier of Entertainment Weekly writes, "The score...includes some arresting songs: The Marines' lively opening trio 'Some Kinda Time' and the duet 'First Date/Last Night' are melodic standouts."

"Dogfight" runs through August 19 at the Second Stage Theatre. For a full schedule of performances visit the theater's official website.

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