Theater from the Inside Out: Interview with JP Dunphy, multitalented DOGFIGHT actor, singer, and dancer

JP Dunphy is an up-and-coming actor, singer, and dancer in the Philadelphia area who swam against the stream of expectations early in his life when he did not follow in the footsteps of his famous Temple University basketball coach father. Multitalented as JP is, he stands out onstage while, at the same time, he blends in as a great ensemble player. He is currently playing numerous roles in the Media production of DOGFIGHT, the 2012 musical, directed by Jesse Cline awith choreography by Dann Dunn.

The angry young men in DOGFIGHT have big dreams to kill the enemy overseas and return to New York for a glorious ticker tape parade, but instead many of them are wounded or killed in action. The survivors come back home with deeply seated angst and severe PTSD, unprepared for life that follows, including being spit at by flower girls in San Francisco. [Media Theatre, 104 E State Street, Media, PA] March 9-27, 2016; mediatheatre.org.

JP Dunphy, gentleman.

JP Dunphy, gentleman.

Henrik Eger: When was the first time that you, as the son of Fran Dunphy, Temple University’s famous basketball coach, realized that you were not a basketball player but an actor, singer, and songwriter?

JP Dunphy: I knew I wanted to be an actor even before I held my first basketball at the age of four. When I was even younger, around age 3, I would watch Disney movies and sing along all the time. Mom even got me the sing-along Disney VHS tapes. I used to sing “A Whole New World” and “One Jump” from Aladdin with my best friend Lara Turner. My mom made those songs into a show and filmed it on our huge, heavy, old video camera. This was the first time I knew that I loved being in the spotlight and on camera. My love of the stage and performing only grew from there.

Eger: How did your parents respond when they realized you wanted to go professional?

Dunphy: I’m sure they reacted like every other parent would: “It won’t be an easy life” and “Are you sure?” I was even told, “You should really look into another line of work and do acting as your second job.” Don’t get me wrong, my parents are very supportive of my work as an actor. But, I’d be lying if I said they didn’t push the alternative “better money making way of life” on me. Maybe it’s my Irish nature, or maybe it’s just my passion, but I don’t think giving up acting will ever be an option for me.

JP Dunphy as Corny Collins in HAIRSPRAY, Media Theatre.

JP Dunphy as Corny Collins in HAIRSPRAY, Media Theatre.

Eger: What would you say were your three most important roles and why?

Dunphy: Frankie in Forever Plaid, first with the Ambler Players and more recently with the Media Theatre, because of the nature of the show: no breaks, no breathers, just an hour and a half of straight fun and tight four-part harmonies. Blending with three other voices isn’t an easy task ever. If you can pull off seven shows a week of Forever Plaid and hold those harmonies like a well-oiled machine, then you can do any show that involves harmonizing beyond a simple duet standpoint.

Second would be Corny Collins from Hairspray, because it was the first time it opened up the opportunity for me to play a leading man. And most recently, my multiple roles in Dogfight: the lounge singer, a Marine Corps Sergeant, an arrogant waiter, a guy on the bus, and even a tattoo artist. I love acting as ONE person playing MULTIPLE characters. It’s a rare opportunity for an actor to portray a whole host of people on stage.  Often within seconds, I have to change characters and have them be recognizably different. Pulling that off, like Johnny Depp, who can play many different character types, is one of the greatest signs of a skilled actor. The Media Theatre gave me that great opportunity for both these musicals.

Eger: Together with two other successful Philadelphia actors—Jeff Coon and Fran Prisco, and a whole host of well-known American guest artists—you gave an amazing performance in Cape May, NJ, so much so that it wasn’t easy to get tickets, and more sold-out shows followed after that. What did you learn from those experiences as a concert singer and entertainer?

Dunphy: Work with the Summer Club with Jeff Coon and Fran Prisco showed me that there are many fantastic theatre artists out there. The number of talented performers and musicians that come and go through our shows puts Broadway on pause, while keeping the flame of big band music alive and well. Working all the musicality of a big band experience into my own performance challenged me, but having an amazing band behind me made my job infinitely easier. Involving a live audience, especially those who already had seen the show a few times, and still making each performance new and exciting for them is a really tough challenge. But I believe we have done just that, as witnessed by the ever-growing number of fans and regulars who have come to see the show for the last three years. Even the noobs have to be won over.

JP Dunphy, Jeff Coon, Fran Prisco, and Larry Lees at SUMMERFEST Cape May, NJ.

JP Dunphy, Jeff Coon, Fran Prisco, and Larry Lees at SUMMERFEST Cape May, NJ.

Eger: You have a large following of people from the Greater Philadelphia area who can’t get enough of your amazing performances at the Media Theatre. Tell us more about your experiences in working with Jesse Cline, the artistic director.

Dunphy: Jesse is an amazing and rare man to work with. I’ve been fortunate enough to get hired by him as often as I have. He has shown me that adaptability is key in making things work. Jesse is smart enough to not only share his input, but he always asks the actors “What do YOU think?” He allows a blending of his vision and the actors’s intuition to make each scene stand out on stage.

Eger: What distinguishes Dann Dunn, the choreographer, from other professional dancers with whom you have worked in the past?

Dunphy: Dann Dunn has one of the most memorable choreographic teaching styles I’ve ever come across. His professionalism and diligence makes it hard to not get each and every dance move, sharp and fluid, into your body in no time. Better yet, his choreo stays with the dancers. To this day, I can still do the entire Encore Finale from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, from years ago. Why? Dann just has a way of making you remember, regardless of your past education in dance or movement. If I ever start my own theatre company, I’d want Dann Dunn on my team.

Eger: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you and your work?

Dunphy: I love acting, living, traveling, dogs, my wonderful, amazing, and gorgeous better half, and, of course, my supportive family. Honestly, I’m the luckiest guy in the world. But as lucky as I am, I’m driven to get my name into your home, either through stage, music, or movies. Basically, I want to become the Johnny Depp of Theatre. I want to be the guy yours kids want to be like, a role model, helper, and friend to everyone.

Eger: Great. I know that your mother is happy with what she started many years ago when she turned your singing into a show. I now wonder what your dad tells his basketball players. Will they come and see Dogfight? They would not regret it.

Dogfight runs March 9-27, 2016, at the Media Theatre [104 E State St., Media, PA]: Musical direction by Chris Ertelt, costumes by Katie Yamaguchi, scenic design by Matthew Miller, lighting design by Greg Solomon, and sound design by Carl Park. Box Office: (610) 891-0100. mediatheatre.org. Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, with an intermission.
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About the author

Henrik Eger

HENRIK EGER, editor of Drama Around the Globe. Bilingual playwright, author of Metronome Ticking. Born and raised in Germany. Ph.D. in English, University of Illinois, Chicago. German translator of Martin Luther King, Jr’s Nobel Peace Prize mail. Producer-director: Multilingual Shakespeare, London. Retired professor of English and Communication who taught in six countries on three continents, including four universities and one college in the U.S. Author of four college text books. Longtime Philadelphia theatre correspondent for AAJT, the world’s largest Jewish theatre website. Articles published in Classical Voice, Los Angeles; Kayhan International, Tehran, Iran; Indian Express, Mumbai, India; The Jewish Forward, New York; Philadelphia Jewish Voice, Phindie, and Broad Street Review, Philadelphia; The Mennonite, Tucson; and New Jersey Stage. Contact: HenrikEger@gmail.com