Nancy Sasso Janis
The Performance Lab at the Warner Theatre Center for Arts Education (affectionately known as P-lab) has as their instructor the fearless Isabel Carrington. The actors in the program are at the top of their high school theater game, but even their director admits that "the fact that the performers in this particular production are high school students is not by any means typical for a show of this caliber. The fact that the high school aged performers in this production are so artistically gifted and utterly dedicated to the integrity of this production has, on many occasions during the rehearsal process, taken my breath away." The production they chose is 'Dogfight' with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and the book by Peter Duchan, based on a Warner Brothers Film and screenplay by Bob Comfort.
'Dogfight' is a musical named after a cruel prank played upon an innocent and unsuspecting girl living in the sixties in San Francisco and contains plenty of adult language and situations. Five young Marines that are about to be shipped out to Vietnam participate in a cruel game. Each Marine puts $50 in the pot and the one who brings the ugliest date to a party wins the money.
While some may question the appropriateness of such a show for the P-lab students, the young Marines about to head to war are presumably the same age of some of the cast members. And the subject matter, though dark, does contain an overreaching theme of compassion, self-worth and forgiveness. The P-lab students, with their "industry mindset," once again rose to the challenge of this heavy yet touching show. It features some wonderful musical compositions performed under the direction of Dawn Marie Conroy, who also led the four musicians in the pit stage right.
Les Ober, Ken Traub and the director worked together to design and build the most technically challenging set that the Nancy Marine Studio Theatre has ever contained. Two levels and a revolving section in the middle of the stage (a la Westchester Broadway Theater) was impressive indeed and worked flawlessly. It was painted by scenic artists Karla Woodworth and Lana Peck and lit beautifully by Claire Gaudette. Ms. Carrington did the costumes and wigs and John Ozerhoski served as military consultant. Katie Brunetto provided the fine choreography.
The lead teens included Shanna Shotwell in the role of the inexperienced Rose Fenny and tenor Jacob Honig as the young Marine Eddie Birdlace. Ms. Shotwell is a senior at The Gilbert School who will study creative writing at New Hampshire Institute of Art in the fall and brought tremendous heart and a flawless singing voice to her role. Mr. Honig, a sophomore, sang and acted just as well. Joseph Calabrese, a senior who will attend Western Connecticut State University, played Bernstein and his brother Nicholas played Boland, the second and third member of the "Three B's." The other two boys in the cast, sophomore Charlie Rau and sophomore Connor Picard ('Ragtime,') joined these three to form a strong male force in the show.
The wisecracking Marcy was played by Emma Seyer, a senior who will be majoring in music ed at University of New Hampshire in the fall, and HS junior Julia Traub aged up to play Rose's mama. Cheshire HS junior Isabella Riccio (Miss Pennywise in 'Urinetown' with P-lab) did well as a lounge singer and Chippy. Hannah Begley, Jessica Gormley, senior Emma Avery, Morgan Rinaldi in her P-lab debut, Emily Delventhal-Sali, and Veronica Johnson played the remaining female roles.
As I watched this production, I quickly forgot that the actors were still in high school. Such was the level of professionalism that everyone brought to their challenging roles. 'Dogfight' closes on Sunday, May 31 with a performance at 2:00pm and tickets are available at the box office