By Jori Waldron
An abundance of technical issues at its opening performance kept the musical Big Fish from living up to its big title.
Now appearing at the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center at Morton College in Cicero by its resident professional company, the Broadway book and music as well as a competent cast were severely overshadowed by technical difficulties.
The worst technical area by far was the sound. Serious issues with microphone feedback and too much reverberation combine with the probability that technicians were not actually watching the show. Often, microphones would be turned on too late, so the audience would miss the characters’ first few lines, and then they would be left on too long, so the audience would hear whisperings from backstage. There was also a huge snafu with a phone ringing after a character had already pretended to answer it.
Lighting issues include missed cues and an overall feeling of attempting to do too much without seeming to know how to do it properly. Many facades of wallpaper and trees left odd shadows on characters’ faces. Other times the lights went down too late or came up too early to reveal people changing the set.
The set changes occasionally caused distraction as well. In one particular scene, while Will Bloom (Taylor Okey), Edward’s son, was attempting to have a serious conversation with Jenny Hill (Aimee Erickson Langfield), people backstage continually disrupted the mood with banging chains and moving scenery.
That said, Big Fish is a work that began as a book by Daniel Wallace, which did so well it was made it into a movie starring Ewan McGregor. Then it was transformed into a musical (Book by John August, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa) which opened in Chicago and appeared on Broadway in 2013.
This somewhat fantastical story centers on Edward Bloom, a man whose son doesn’t know if all the tales his dad tells about his life are truth or fiction. For a complete synopsis, click here.
Terrific performances include Jonah D. Winston (Karl the Giant) whose booming bass voice helps make this magical world come to life, and Edward J. MacLennan (Edward), whose endless enthusiasm illustrates how completely immersed he is in this role.
The ensemble, especially the dancers, does a tremendous job of adding vitality and talent to the performance. A special nod to choreographer Dina DiCostanzo; several dance numbers really lift what are otherwise drab songs.
Overall this show has great potential, but opening night, it just didn’t live up to the magic and intrigue of the book, the movie or the rightful expectations of professional musical theatre patrons in Chicagoland.
Despite the strong efforts of the cast to make this show something imaginative and artistic, it falls flat because of technical ineptitude. So kudos to the cast for giving it their all, but it just isn’t enough to make this Big Fish a very good catch.
‘Big Fish’ is playing at the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center (3801 S. Central Ave., Cicero) through August 9, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $18 or $16 for seniors. Tickets are available at www.jpactheatre.com or by calling 708-656-1800.