★★★★★Over the years, I have been witness to several productions of John August’s “Big Fish” with music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the film version written by August, this is a story about a man and his son. The title refers to what is known as “Fish Tales” or tall stories. Our hero in this story is Edward Bloom. The role is played to perfection by Alexander Gemignani, a newcomer to Chicago area theater with a very impressive background. This is a name to remember, as I am sure if he opts to work here, he will find plenty of roles to play. It is almost as if this part was written with him in mind. Edward is a salesman who spends a great deal of time on the road.
When he does come home he tells great stories to his wife ( the incredible Heidi Kettenring, who once again roves that like a fine wine she ages to perfection and tackles any role she takes) and son , Will ( as a youth, played by William Daly and on some productions, Archer Gaye/as an adult the vibrant Michael Kurowski). Will is unsure as to who is father really is and what stories are real or fantasy. The show opens on Will’s wedding day where he pleads with his father not to tell any stories, bad jokes or even make a toast. During his talk he divulges to his dad that his soon to be wed will soon be a mother. Josephine , his wife is played by Lydia Burke, who also does some of the ensemble roles.
This is a true ensemble production. With the exception of the three main characters , all of the other roles are played by actors who take on several roles. Some of the productions I have seen in the past had larger casts, but perhaps they were not cleverly directed as maestro Henry Godinez shows in this rendition. The choreography ( Tommy Rapley who also assistant directed) shows how to properly utilize a theater -in-the-round stage and get results. This production is a masterpiece and a class in how to do a play with very little in the way of scenic design (Collette Pollard makes use of what she can) and very few props ( Sally Zack is always perfect there). The lighting (Jesse Klug) and sound ( Michael Daly) were perfect and the costumes (Amanda Vander Byl) delightful.
As I said earlier, this is truly an ensemble piece so here’s to an ensemble that deserves the Jeff Award for Ensemble: Brandon Dahlquist, Lucy Godinez ( her Witch is powerful and amazing), Christopher Kale Jones, Emma Rosenthal ( a great comic touch to both the Mayor character and her Amos Calloway- wow!), Allison Sill ( always sheer perfection), Ayana Strutz and the incredible Jonah D. Winston ( who makes Carl a very special giant of a man). Without these sterling performances and the amazing speed of their costume and character changes, this show cannot work, so three cheers for this troupe of performers who do it all!
The Marriott Orchestra , as always is perfect with the score and despite not knowing the songs, the audience truly seemed to enjoy each song. “Daffodils” to end the first act was powerful, “Time Stops” has great meaning. “Start Over” warms one’s heart and “Be A Hero”, the opening and closing theme has great meaning in both spots. I will not tell you the entire outcome but will let you know that while it is an ending that makes sense, it is a five tissue one. Adult Will, when he finds out that his dad is sick digs into the past and what he finds is beyond what anyone might have dreamed. That is what makes this story so very special and the cast at Marriott Theatre truly brings this story to life as it should be!
Thank you Henry and company!