While not yet names as recognisable as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lin-Manuel Miranda, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul look to be well on their way to securing their places in the musical theatre hall of fame.

Pasek and Paul are the team behind music and lyrics for Dear Evan Hansen, a musical centred around the struggles of a teenage boy with a social anxiety disorder, which is tipped to be a strong contender at the 2017 Tony Awards. The pair also wrote lyrics for several songs featured in La La Land, the musical film recently nominated for a staggering 14 Academy Awards and favoured to take out the coveted ‘Best Picture’ prize. Additionally, the writing team also penned several songs written for the NBC musical TV Series, Smash.

But it was back in 2012 when Pasek and Paul’s musical adaption of the film Dogfight (with a book by Peter Duchan) first arrived on the Off-Broadway stage and, in 2017, Dogfight is the first musical production of the year to be staged by Western Sydney’s Blackout Theatre Company.

Stephanie Bellchambers, choreographer for Blackout’s Dogfight, spoke to Theatre People about the production just prior to opening night at the Lendlease Darling Quarter Theatre.

Dogfight follows the story of Eddie Birdlace, who is a US marine in the 1960s,” Bellchambers said.

“He’s heading off to the Vietnam War with his comrades [and] the tradition on your last night is to do what’s called a ‘dogfight’.” (In short, a ‘dogfight’ is a party for which the marines compete to see who can bring along the most physically unattractive date.)

“Eddie brings Rose to the party, and then you actually see a lovely bond form between those two people. So … initially, you don’t like [Eddie], and then you see that he actually is human and he really enjoys being with and spending time with Rose.”

Bellchambers is delighted to have the chance to help bring the production of Dogfight to the stage.

“We’re actually hosting the New South Wales amateur premiere, so we’re very excited about that,” she said.

She’s also a great fan of the piece itself.

“I definitely love the extended theatricality that comes from doing something [set] in a particular era,” she explained.

“It also becomes a way of learning about history – I’m a history nerd!”

She added: “Even though it’s a relatively short show, there’s still so much content and so much opportunity for people to really explore the characters and what it was like to be these people in the 1960s.”

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The cast of Blackout Theatre Company’s Dogfight

Bellchambers talked about her greatest challenge as choreographer of Blackout’s production.

“The biggest challenge would have to be really trying to make the pieces that are choreographed as authentic as possible,” she told Theatre People.  

“I’ve been researching, as much as I can, swing dancing and jazz dancing … It was really exciting to actually get to choreograph these pieces, but I hadn’t actually learned either of those two dances properly. So, I had to learn them and then teach them, so that’s been an interesting process!”

Bellchambers spoke highly of her performing colleagues.

“I have to give credit where credit’s due to my cast because they have worked so hard on getting these pieces down. A lot of our cast would not consider themselves dancers in any respect; they definitely consider themselves ‘movers’. They’ve really been practising hard and they’ve really been trying to get the mood and feel of the dances.”

For well over a decade, Blackout Theatre Company (originally Blacktown Theatre Company) has been staging productions. Bellchambers’ own involvement with the company began in 2015.

“I started as a cast member in Into the woods,” she said (that production played Penrith’s Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in October, 2015).

“I then was asked to be choreographer for Rent, our major musical production last year.”

Bellchambers said she liked to consider Blackout a ‘progressive’ theatre company.

“We definitely enjoy taking risks on shows that not many other companies would do. We like to give opportunities to people to really sink their teeth into something juicy.”

She continued: “Our president Angela Hanna and our vice president Koren Beale go above and beyond to ensure that [in] every production that is put on … every ‘t’ is crossed, every ‘i’ is dotted [and] that everything is the way it should be.”

To learn more about Blackout Theatre Company and further productions in the pipeline for 2017, click here.

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