Dogfight, New Musical About Cruelty and Hope, Ends Limited Run Off-Broadway

By Kenneth Jones
19 Aug 2012

Derek Klena
Derek Klena
Photo by Joan Marcus

Dogfight, the new musical that tells a tender and brutal tale of young people meeting in a situation certain to end in heartbreak, ends its limited, world-premiere run Aug. 19 at Off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre. It marked the New York City debut of rising songwriters Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, whose James and the Giant Peach, Edges and A Christmas Story the Musical have been seen regionally. A Christmas Story opens on Broadway this fall.

Dogfight opened July 16 following previews from June 27. Lindsay Mendez (Broadway's Everyday Rapture, Godspell) stars as a young waitress pursued by a fresh-faced Vietnam-bound soldier (played by Carrie's Derek Klena) in 1963. Tony Award winner Joe Mantello (Wicked, Other Desert Cities, Take Me Out, The Other Place) directs the production, which has a libretto by Peter Duchan, drawing on the 1991 feature film of the same name.

Read Playbill.com's recent feature on Pasek and Paul, who share both music and lyric credit on their projects.

There has been no announcement of a cast album or future life for the pop-rock-flavored show, which received promising but mixed reviews. Dogfight plays Second Stage's Tony Kiser Theatre at Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street, where Next to Normal, Everyday Rapture and The Little Dog Laughed premiered prior to Broadway engagements. Next to Normal went through revisions following its Second Stage run and later snagged the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.



Christopher Gattelli, the 2012 Tony Award winner of Newsies, choreographs.

The Dogfight cast also features Annaleigh Ashford, Becca Ayers, Nick Blaemire, Steven Booth, Dierdre Friel, Adam Halpin, F. Michael Haynie, James Moye and Josh Segarra.

Here's how Second Stage bills the new musical: "It's Nov. 21, 1963. On the eve of their deployment to a small but growing conflict in Southeast Asia, three young Marines set out for one final boys’ night of debauchery, partying, and maybe a little trouble. But when Corporal Eddie Birdlace [Derek Klena, who was Tommy in Carrie Off-Broadway] meets Rose [Lindsay Mendez, of Godspell and Everyday Rapture], an awkward and idealistic waitress he enlists to win a cruel bet with his fellow recruits, she rewrites the rules of the game and teaches him the power of compassion."

Dogfight is based on the Warner Bros. film and screenplay by Bob Comfort; Lili Taylor and River Phoenix starred in the movie. The Marines' cruel bet involves finding the ugliest girls in town and bringing them to a party, at which the women are secretly judged and a winner among the men is chosen. The musical is the winner of the 2011 Richard Rodgers Studio Production Award, administered by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Costume and set design are supported by a grant from the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund.

Lindsay Mendez
photo by Joan Marcus

Dogfight's production team included scenic and costume designer David Zinn, lighting designer Paul Gallo, sound designer Fitz Patton, hair designer Josh Marquette and make-up designer Ashley Ryan with music direction by Bryan Perri and orchestrations by Michael Starobin.

Pasek and Paul's projects include A Christmas Story (national tour 2011, 5th Avenue Theatre 2010) and James and the Giant Peach (Goodspeed 2010). Other works include Edges (licensed by Music Theatre International, with over 150 productions worldwide from South Korea and Australia to South Africa and the Philippines) and various TV assignments, as well as Duck for President and If You Give a Pig a Pancake for Theatreworks USA.

In addition to the 2011 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre, they have received the 2011 Sundance Institute Fellowship, 2011 ASCAP Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award, 2011 ASCAP Songwriters Fellowship Award, 2007-2008 Dramatists Guild Fellowship, 2007 Jonathan Larson Award, 2010 Fred Ebb Award Finalists, Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project, and were among the "50 to Watch" from Dramatist Magazine. They both received BFAs from the University of Michigan in Musical Theatre.

Book writer Duchan co-wrote the screenplay for "Breaking Upwards," released by IFC Films in 2010. He co-wrote a short, "Unlocked," an Official Selection of the Tribeca Film Festival, among others. His play, Lavender Scare, was presented as part of the Geva Theatre's 2011 Plays-in-Progress series. He graduated from Northwestern University.

Mantello's directing credits in New York include Wicked, Other Desert Cities, The Pride, Pal Joey, 9 to 5 the Musical, November, The Receptionist, The Ritz, Three Days of Rain, The Odd Couple, Glengarry Glen Ross (Tony nomination), Laugh Whore, Assassins (Tony Award), Take Me Out (Tony Award), Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Design for Living, The Vagina Monologues, bash, Love! Valour! Compassion! (Tony nomination), Proposals, The Mineola Twins, Corpus Christi, Mizlansky/Zilinsky, Blue Window, God's Heart, The Santaland Diaries, Snakebit, Three Hotels and Imagining Brad.

For more information, visit 2ST.com.

Pasek and Paul shared their music with Playbill Video.