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Review: Dogfight at Chapel Off Chapel

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Review by Wendy Samantha


Dogfight: a fiercely disputed contest.

The title alone sets you up for an adventure where some will win and some will lose. How that can be interpreted as the story unfolds is left to you. So be ready.

Arriving at Chapel Off Chapel which is all a hustle and bustle - you’re in the heart of a busy night life, crowded bars, vintage fashion, the aroma of some great coffee and the surrounds of creative culture. Hitting the foyer on opening night at Theatrical’s production of Dogfight is all of Three Bees a buzz with Friday night drinks and the excitement and high expectations for an entertaining evening.

Walk through the theatre doors and you’ve entered a story. If you know anything about dischords, this is how it will sit. There’s the clash, and the sweet resolve. But this show is bittersweet and leaves you with a memory that will cling to you. It creates interest, it brings up sensitivities, it strips reality down bare. It’s a raw and fresh slice of theatre where the beautifully written music adds gently to the emotional and unique ride that is Dogfight.

Based on the Warner Brothers film and screenplay by Nancy Savoca, Dogfight was adapted by Peter Duchan with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The musical first premiered Off - Broadway in 2012 and hit London in 2014. We are back in the 1960’s and meet Eddie Birdlace (Daniel Nieborski) who takes us back four years before he returned from Vietnam. His buddies, Bernstein (Tristan Sicari) and Boland (Josh Direen) form together the Three Bee’s and along with their mates Gibbs (Amir Yacoub), Stevens (John Ninis) and Fector (Kael Serin-D’Alterio) are all caught up in a cruel game of dogfight where they have to bring the ugliest date to a party. Each marine puts up $50 to be a part of it all and the winner takes the pot. Enter waitress Rose (Antoinette Davis) who like any girl is excited to be asked out on her first date by Birdlace, but as he walks her to the party he hesitates knowing she may get hurt. Rose of course does not realise she’s part of the joke, so pulls him along to the event in hope of a little romance. Unfortunately, after a few drinks she finds out she was asked out under false pretenses and that the truth of it all is rather disgusting. Hurt and humiliated, Rose cries herself to sleep and Birdlace soon realises the ugly truth of what he has done. Sadly however, he is the only one of his friends who seems to understand how demeaning the game has been. Perhaps this is why the ending was written the way it was.

Knowing he’s off to Vietnam the next morning, Birdlace tries to redeem himself with a newly opened heart and carries hope to make a new start with Rose. Forgiving and kind, she entertains the idea of love and they set off for a pleasant evening together whilst Birdlace’s marine buddies spend the night trying to score one night stands, paid hookups and quick tattoos.

Dogfight is a gritty, unbandaged cut of scenes that took place in its time. There’s elements of Hairspray mixed with a feeling of Dear Evan Hanson, and an aura of Miss Saigon. You will find the costumes, set and props have been well thought out and are all fitting to the era. They allow for quick transitions, with the bed in particular cleverly hid within the set.

Whilst there were a few microphones that lost sound, wrong lighting cues and a couple shakes on the spotlight, Theatrical’s presentation of Dogfight was put together with professionalism and polish. Both leads in Nieborski and Davis have vocals that are “nothing short of wonderful” and they play out beautifully together. Nieborski shows a passion for dramatic scenes, and Davis contrasts this with a believable and honest portrayal of Rose. The cast together work wonderfully well as a combined unit, and after seeing Serin-D’Alterio as the Scarecrow in Theatrical’s earlier 2023 production of The Wizard Of Oz I must say that in contrast to their character here in Dogfight, their range and collabre of acting is incredibly high flying - and at this standard so too are all those who take to the stage in Dogfight. They are clever performers who don’t miss a beat. The direction Pip Mushin has given is precise and thorough, allowing for thought and an accurate slice of reality. You feel along with the characters. Couples will hold hands and remember happy memories of a first date, women relate to the young girl trying to find the right outfit for a night out, there’s the men who look for adventure and the boys being boys in search of a girl and a good time with the lads.

The cast tells this story with great strength.

Highlights for me included the fancy restaurant scene where the music twinkles in the background as the date takes place. It’s playful and sets the mood whilst there’s a sense of the cute and cheeky, a side of the lead characters that you don’t often get to see in this show. Adriana Pannuzzo has choreographed the opening dances in particular with precision and the cast come out with power, the design choice in lighting to cue a quick transition to the front line is smart and attention grabbing, and there’s some fabulous toe tapping tunes you bop along to. Madeline Pratt’s vocals are also a stand out.

Hats off to music director Tim Wilson who has transformed Dogfight’s difficult score into the fairy lights that allow the story to sparkle. The band blends wonderfully well together and not only transports you back to the 1960’s, but pushes the storyline beyond the edges of the pages. Whilst the cast is what you watch, the music is what you feel.

Dogfight is a slice of life that you almost don’t want to be told. You journey into the uncomfortable and are faced with the raw reality. But watch as the beauty unfolds as this is the place where we learn and grow from the most. “I’m happy that it happened. Happy that I’m here.”

Theatrical’s Dogfight is not to be missed.

Head to Chapel Off Chapel for their season running 9 - 26th November.

Image Supplied


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