Student Actors Try New Skills in ‘Dogfight’

32481268926_d52f6d2ed5_o Spencer Sandstrom

“Dogfight” will mark the start of spring semester for University of Utah’s Department of Theatre. With songs written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the same duo that contributed to the tunes in “La La Land”, “Dogfight” weaves a story of love, loss and heartbreak against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.

It’s the night before Eddie Birdlace and his fellow marines ship out to Vietnam, and they’re looking for a little bit of fun. It starts with a competition–each marine must bring a girl to a party. But not just any girl; they’re hoping to find the “ugliest” girl they can. After all, whoever has the most unappealing date wins the prize. But Eddie has found Rose Fenny, and while it seemed like a good idea to invite her, he’s having second thoughts. It looks like Rose may be falling for him. What’s worse, Eddie might be falling for her back.

Liz Terry, a senior in the Musical Theatre Program, is playing Rose Fenny in this production. She described Rose as “shy and awkward, and she always sees the good in people.” Terry, whose credits include Heather in “American Idiot” and Lucy in “Jekyll and Hyde,” feels that Rose is the most personal role she’s played yet. “I totally relate to her awkwardness, her insecurities and how she dreams of romance but feels safe in her own little world,” Terry explained. “This role hits close to home, which can be tough, but it helps me tell her story truthfully.”

For Terry, one of the highlights of working on this show has been the music. “Every song is so well-written and everyone’s voices mesh so well together,” she said. But this has also come with challenges. For the role, Terry had to learn how to play guitar. “I grew up playing classical guitar, but I never accompanied myself singing, and I never played chords,” Terry said. “I spent hours in my apartment, usually in the middle of the night, going over the music again and again [for this role]. I’ve never played guitar for an audience before, so I was pretty terrified.”

Having a supportive cast likely helps get past that fear. The cast is made up of students in the theatre department–and even some faculty–and they bring excitement and energy to their work. Along with help from the dedication of the production team, “Dogfight” promises entertainment. “Everyone in the cast is so talented and incredibly supportive,” Terry said. “It’s been such a great experience and a wonderful way to start the last semester of my senior year.” She also praised the work of the Marines in the show. “They are working their butts off and they sound incredible!” she said.

Terry is most excited for audiences to come in and experience this story. “It’s not a super well-known show, and it touches on so many things that I think people will connect with. It shows how soldiers felt shipping off to Vietnam and how their worlds turned upside down when they came home, if they came home,” she said. “It’s about first love and lost love and everything in between. It’s about people and it shows the messy, imperfect parts of what it means to be human, and I think that’s pretty special.”

“Dogfight,” written by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Peter Duchan, and directed by Denny Berry, opens Feb. 3 in the Babcock Theatre and runs through Feb. 19. There will also be two post-performance discussions, one panel discussion and one post-show discussion, both on Feb. 10. Tickets and more information is available at www.theatre.utah.edu. Students get in free with their UCard/ArtsPass.

c.heiner@dailyutahchronicle.com