A love story of many layers, Genesius Theatre brings Dogfight to the stage

Written by Nikki M. Murry.

Based on the book by Peter Duchman (and once a Warner Brothers film starring the late River Phoenix), Dogfight, with music and lyrics by the Tony-, Oscar- and Grammy-winning team of Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hanson, La La Land), comes to the Genesius Theatre stage beginning on April 22.

Dogfight is an awkwardly romantic musical and perfect for date-night or ladies-night-out audiences.

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The winner of a Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical, Dogfight is both romantic and heartbreaking, telling the tale of three Marines on a boys’ night out before their deployment to Southeast Asia. It is then that Corporal Eddie Birdlace meets Rose, a waitress he uses in a cruel bet made with his fellow recruits. But Rose flips the game and teaches Eddie a lesson in love and compassion.

Dogfight is studded with standout musical numbers, showcases an unexpected love affair, and challenges and inspires audiences.

“Dogfight, the musical, is like an onion…it has many layers. At first glance, you simply get caught up in the awkwardly innocent romantic pre-Vietnam story; however, as you delve more closely and those layers fall to the side, you find so much more” said Genesius Producing Artistic Director and Director and Producer of Dogfight, L J Fecho.

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“The story not only reflects the human condition at its worst, and at its best, but serves as a metaphor for the unraveling of an era that began with such hope and promise, and ended in turmoil, fear and hate.”

For Fecho, having directed, produced, and designed more than 50 productions and revues at Genesius, Dogfight was important for him to take on personally. “I’m attracted to stories that galvanize the underdog into taking a leap of faith into life’s abyss because they inherently know that if they don’t pounce on this seemingly fortuitous, albeit fear-filled opportunity, it may never come again, and they will be sealed with regret for the rest of their lives. Dogfight is that kind of sweet and very special story,” the owner of Fecho Productions explains.

Photo courtesy of Genesius Theatre: Don Carrick of Studio 413 & Lighting by Zack Spadaccia. Front – From L to R – Kelly Kantner as Rose Fenny & Daniel Graf as Eddie Birdlace – Back Middle – Becka Malanios as Mama Fenny.

For Daniel Graf, who plays lead character Eddie, Dogfight asks the question: How does someone hold onto their humanity after facing tragedy or hardship? Set during the Vietnam War, soldiers were taught to put emotion aside and view their enemies as targets rather than people, Graf explains. But as Eddie evolves as a character and spends more time with Rose (played by Kelly Kantner), he finds it impossible to do.

Kantner, a life-long performer and Exeter Township Senior High School graduate, has quite an extensive theatre background, once residing in New York City and playing Minnie Fay in Hello Dolly at Theatre by the Sea in Rhode Island, working alongside Tony award-winning actress Cady Huffman. Her first show at Genesius was American Idiot, and she’s been a regular since.

The seasoned actress feels a kinship with the character of Rose, explaining, “She looks to find the good in every situation. Also, like Rose, I have been hurt, heartbroken and bruised by words from others or others’ actions. From moments of bullying when I was a kid for being a plus-sized girl, to a full-on life-changing moment and how she/I chose to move forward, and even being thankful for that moment.”

Photo courtesy of Genesius Theatre: Don Carrick of Studio 413 & Lighting by Zack Spadaccia. Front – Daniel Graf – L to R – Row 2 – Collin T. Bollinger & Ryan Cunningham – Row 3 Evan Watkins, James Barksdale & Rocky Rochlin – Row 4 – Jahlil Little & Rick Fisher.

In the supporting role of Boland, Ryan Cunningham, explains, “Dogfight touches on the idea of beauty and what it means for each character. Deceit is a common theme in the show, too…whether it’s cheating on a bet, being dishonest about asking a girl on a date, or even using toxic masculinity to hide emotional vulnerability.”

Gabrielle Lewis, playing the tough and confident Marcy, says that she hopes audiences experiencing Dogfight “will be reminded just how deeply our words and actions can affect others, both positively and negatively.” She describes the production as one with “a whole lot of heart,” explaining it reveals how all of us have layers, and that no one person is entirely “good” or “bad.”

Genesius and the DoubleTree have partnered with each other on the Park/Dinner/Shuttle/Show/Shuttle Program. At any performance, audiences can park for free in the DoubleTree garage, have dinner at the DoubleTree prior to the show, get shuttled to the show, see the show, and get shuttled back to the DoubleTree.

Tickets are available at genesiusdifference.org. Dogfight show dates: April 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, May 1. Tickets rang from $17.50 to $33.00.

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Berks Weekly
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