I had the pleasure of seeing the inaugural performance of the newly formed theatre troupe, The Next Chapter Actors, in their production of Pasek and Paul’s Dogfight. Delightfully performed at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center’s Kimberly Clark Theater, the amenities weren’t too shabby for audience members. Composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are some of Broadway’s most sought after talents. With the recent success of their musical Dear Evan Hansen and the award winning lyrics for the film score in La La Land it’s no surprise the music of Dogfight is golden as well. The harmonies between Bernstein (played by Nick Schommer), Birdlace (played by Tyler Hietpas), and Boland (played by Next Chapter’s founder, Kyle Weidman) in “Some Kind of Time” were tight and filled the theatre with wonderful energy.
The highlight of this show for me was found in the performance of Amanda Meo portraying the role of Rose Fenny. Not only is her acting ability fluid but her vocals are simply stunning. Her rendition of “Pretty Funny” at the end of Act I left the audience speechless with her vulnerability and vocal technique which is pretty close to flawless from the chest voice to the beautiful floaty top. She has the rare combination of impressive comedic timing in addition to a depth of dramatic range. It is worth noting that she was also the choreographer for this production. I absolutely loved how she had all of the Marines line up during the first number of the show as they changed into uniform. It visually set the stage for what was to come.
Other highlights included Tyler Hietpas’ portrayal of PTSD after Eddie returns from the war. The physicality in your acting brought tears to my eyes and created a deep empathy in me that I believe live theatre was created for. Powerhouse vocals from Lauren Meidl in “Dogfight” and very entertaining lounge singing by Derek Olson in “It’s Just a Party”. Emma Knick did a wonderful job of believably playing many years her senior in the role of Mama. Her singing for the opening of the act 2 quartet, “Give Way” was breathtakingly beautiful.
The pit orchestra was flawless under the brilliant musical direction of Marty O’Donnell featuring piano, drums, cello, violin, guitar, and bass. The set reminded me a bit of the Broadway revival of Violet especially with the greyhound bus station simulation. The timing of the lighting of each sign accentuated the drama as it unfolded so my kudos goes to Scott Manteuffell and whoever helped to light the Vietnam war scene. I really felt as if I was in the marsh with them and it completely took my breath away.
If the excellence and attention to detail that Mr. Weidman and his creative team have given to this debut production is any indication of what’s to come, I am beyond excited by what will be next for The Next Chapter Actors. My only complaint would be the sound design. The mics were a bit too hot and the overall blend suffered at times because of unbalanced levels.
It’s also worth noting that they gave the proceeds from this production to The Wounded Warrior Project. I love the heartbeat behind this theatre company and wish them the best of success as they move forward with more performance endeavors! For more information on The Next Chapter Actors, go to @nca2018 on Facebook.