"Cause people can surprise you... or not": The cast of Dogfight the musicalPhotograph/Kate Caspari

cruel game among U.S marines leaving for Vietnam lingers in the memory for Eddie Birdlace and Rose Fenny. Dogfight, a musical running at Robinson Auditorium from Wed 24th-Sat 27th of November, tells their story across 1967 and 1963.

One of the lesser-known works of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul , who adapted it from a film into a musical, the crew and cast of Dogfight see it as one of their best works. They describe it as a musical able to appeal both to Cambridge’s dedicated fan base, as well as beyond, with its accessible narrative dealing with war, love, and personal growth – all set in San Francisco during the swinging 60s. Cruelty gives way to compassion in a voyage towards maturity. I went down to the Robinson Auditorium to talk to some of the cast and crew behind the production on Dogfight to discuss what to expect.

"Themes of masculinity, heroism and war, the cast & crew argue, are as salient now as they were in the 60s"

The 1960s is often idealized as a period, but the cast & crew of Dogfight are determined to deal with the “nitty gritty” of this cultural moment. Exploring themes of masculinity, heroism and war, Dogfight will balance both the “feel-good” elements of the musical against its moving poignancy. These themes, the cast & crew argue, are as salient now as they were in the 60s, so much so that it could have been set now in 2021 (if rights would allow!). Adjectives of ‘brutal’, ‘honest’, ‘realist’ were used by the cast in the preview, but these were balanced also against Dogfight’s ‘charm’ and humour. This production of Dogfight seems to be nuanced in its approach to difficult, challenging themes of toxic masculinity, war-heroism, patriarchal culture. Or in their own words: “pushing against outdated ideas … exposing their shitness”.

April Perrott as Rose FennyPhotograph/Kate Caspari

The lead heroine Rose in particular will be played “with a backbone” in this production. The cast & crew see how easily she’s been played as another stereotypically naïve girl. Instead, this production is determined to play Rose as “gusty”, with both agency and authority. The songs of Rose spoke to the actors and, they hope to the audience too. Her songs give weight to a “universal experience of patriarchal culture … the lump in every girl’s throat”. Dogfight explores how several women responded to this and how they survived it in in their own ways. Equally we follow the journey of the male marine counterparts in their impending journey to Vietnam to fight. These two journeys speak to the “individual experience” as fitting now as in the 60s. The cast spoke of how the ages of the characters of the script mirror perfectly that of the actors on stage and audience, again giving a unique pertinence to the musical. This production of Dogfight is not just another romance.

"This production is determined to play Rose as “gusty”, with both agency and authority"

Dogfight is an interesting musical for its adaptation from an earlier film of the same title. I asked what the musical allowed as a form which the film could not. Both cast & crew were rapid in reply seeing the songs and scores of the musicals as able to reach emotional heights unlike in the film. The songs articulate beautiful moments which are incommunicable by the method of dialogue in the film. They allow also deeper, more intricate development of characters, providing us with insights into their behaviour, their psychology and the emotional currents behind this. The crew & cast seemed certain then that the songs gift an array of emotions not found in the original film of Dogfight.

The cast contains both veterans and freshers to Cambridge’s theatrical scene. All felt thrown-in at the start but have bonded rapidly over production and rehearsals, paralleling the theme of camaraderie of the musical. There was a genuinely electric and exciting feeling among all during the interview which is sure to translate in performance.

A shout-out to the band behind Dogfight was important to both cast & crew. So many times, musicians are treated as “employees” rather than central to the artistry of the production. The crew behind this musical is determined that they are treated and respected as a central component to the musical. They will be decked out in all the glory of 60s fashion, matching the cast, to illuminate this.


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Dogfight is on in a short burst from Wednesday to Friday this week. It seems a great Bridgemas event to squeeze in among others. The cast and crew wanted to say that the main panto show this year is on for ages, so why not get Dogfight booked in around it! They are spreading the word that the ADC is not the only place where theatre thrives in Cambridge. Dogfight will be a huge-scale musical, with experts behind the production, and should therefore not be ignored just because it is a production which lies outside the ADC. Dogfight will be a musical of emotional nuance, charm and, most importantly, cutting relevance.

Dogfight will run from the 24th to the 27th of November, 7:30 p.m. at Robinson College Auditorium.