Years ago, one late night, I caught a movie on tv that was called “Big Fish” based on the novel by Daniel Wallace. This was an adventurous, high tech film that was astounding in its presentation. I adored it- I laughed, I cried as we watched a fantasy world created by a traveling salesman ( a lot different than Willy Loman, for sure). When I heard that they were about to make this into a stage play, musical, I thought about all the special effects in the film and wondered, how could they ever pull this off? Well, folks, the Pre-Broadway “Big Fish” opened last night at The Oriental Theatre as part of The Broadway In Chicago series, and it is a hoot-
With a book by John August ( who wrote the screenplay) and music/lyrics by Andrew Lippa, this production captures all of the fantasy of the film and recreates all the imagination that a reader might have had in their mind, into a 2 hours and 20 minute theatrical experience that allows us to feel all the emotion that the movie created. Of course with Susan Stroman at the helm as Director.Choreographer , we could tell it would be smooth as silk. Yet, since it is in the “pre-Broadway” mode, I am sure that along the way, there will be some tightening and some minor alterations, but to be honest there are only a few noticeable items that need to be looked at. The set (Julian Crouch) is a technical delight as the scene changes move very quickly and the impact of the various locations give us the true feeling of where we are supposed to be without to much glitter and gimmick.
This is a fantasy- a story about a man, one Ed Bloom ( an amazing portrayal by Norbert Leo Butz) who is a story teller. One of the best. As we watch his relationships over the years, it is very easy to see that his life is one that needed to be more exciting than the cards he was dealt, growing up in a small souther town in Alabama. As we start this fantastic journey we meet his son, ( as a youngster , played by the adorable Zachary Unger and on other performances by Anthony Pierini), Will. There is very little in the way of relationship between them as Edward is on the road and is missing his son’s youth. But, he does tell stories ( as most traveling sales people are prone to be). As young Will grows up ( the role is then taken over by Bobby Steggert), he feels that his father is not what he thought him to be and that his fantasy life is one that he wants no part of. When Will gets married, the way his father acts at the reception is the straw that broke the camels back and they become estranged to the point that they no longer commincate
When Will finds out that his father has Cancer, he and his wife ( the lovely Krystal Joy Brown) come back home, not so much for Edward, but for Will to see what the financial situation is so that his mother, Sandra ( Deftly handled by the incredible Kate Baldwin) is provided for. What he finds shakes him up and causes him to do a search for what appears to be another woman, or even another life, that his father may have had during those days of travel. What he finds is much more than he bargained for. He learns more about his father and what type of man he really was as he separates the truth from the tall tales, and all the stories of Edward’s heroics.
This is a story about “dreaming big” and the power of family, with a lot of laughs, some wonderful songs ; “Time Stops”, “What’s Next”, “How It Ends” ( this section of the show is one that needs at least three tissues- I used four, thanks to the lady who came prepared) and “I Don’t Need Roof”, to name a few. The songs are a part of telling the story- and what a story- filled with heart, humor and imagination presented by an energetic, spirited cast from mermaid to friendly ogre and even a werewolf and witch.
Ryan Andes ( larger than life), Ben Crawford, JC Montgomery, Brad Oscar, Kirsten Scott, Sarrah Strimel, Katie Thompson, Preston Truman Boyd, Bree Branker, Alex Brightman, Joshua Buscher, Robin Campbell, Bryn Dowling, Jason Lee Garrett, Leah Hoffman, Synthia Link, Angie Schworer, Lara Seibert, Tally Sessions, Cary Tedder and Ashley Yeater take on a variety of roles and make lots of costume changes ( William Ivey Long is a genius). The lighting (Donald Holder) and sound (Jon Weston) and the amazing projections (Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions) all makes for a theatrical experience that you will not forget! There are trees that come alive, a mermaid. Edward being shot out of a cannon and just one spectacular effect after another, keeping us glued to the action on the stage- this is one to see and after it is fine tuned and comes back to town, I would think it would move up to five stars ( MUST SEE), but I would suggest that you run to your phone or computer to order your chance to get in on the action. “Big Fish” is only here through May 5th.
Tickets range in price from $33-$100 and can be purchased by calling 1-800-775-2000, or by going to any of the Broadway In Chicago box offices or online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com where you can also get the complete performance schedule.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com , go to review round-up and click on “Big Fish”