Chicago Theatre Review
A Surprisingly Bountiful Catch
Big Fish – Jedlicka Performing Arts
Productions at this suburban venue can be hit-or-miss. Sometimes it’s the material; other times its the direction or the production values. But in one more coup by director Dante Orfei this venue, tucked away in Morton College, secured the rights to open its new season with a musical that played in the Loop for only a few weeks during its recent pre-Broadway tryout, and then only for about four months when it eventually played the Big Apple. It was received with mixed reviews but was revamped somewhat for New York audiences, however the show, except for reminding the public of the remarkable talent of its star, Norbert Leo Butz, failed to win any Tony Awards that year. But Mr. Orfei has given new life to this musical by John August with music by Andrew Lippa.
Orfei has staged his production with a great deal of love, perhaps because its sentimental story speaks to him in a way like few other shows. Based upon Daniel Wallace’s popular novel as well as Tim Burton’s inventive film version, the story hits home with most audiences. Will, a young man soon to embark upon marriage and the birth of his own son, first must reconcile with his tall tale-telling father, Edward. All his life the man filled his son’s head with farfetched stories overflowing with witches, giants and mermaids in which he was the hero; but Will has a need to know what’s real and who’s this man he calls his father.
Orfei has assembled a 25-member cast who individually and collectively demonstrate remarkable musical talent. They’re led by Edward J. MacLennan as Edward Bloom. MacLennan is a familiar face at Jedlicka, returning to play his fourth starring role, having impressed audiences in the title roles of “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Man of La Mancha.” As an actor MacLennan is a little stiff and looks somewhat uncomfortable when dancing, but the man can sing like a Broadway star. He’s matched by Taylor Okey as his son Will. Okey has a beautiful tenor and, as an actor, interacts nicely with MacLennan, as well as with talented songstress Marisa Boynton as his mother, Sandra Bloom, and particularly with Morgan Glynn Briggs, so radiant as his young wife, Josephine. Other standouts in this cast include Aimee Erickson as Edward’s high school sweetheart Jenny Hill, little Landon Barnickel as Young Will and Jonah D. Winston as Karl the Giant.
The technical support provided is excellent, as well. John Warren’s expert musical direction, including his rich, full-sounding 14-piece orchestra, is not only one of the best ever heard at this theatre, but rivals any pit orchestra in Chicago. Dina DiCostanzo’s choreography is appropriately expressive and challenges the cast just enough. Michael Nedza and Michael A. Kott provide fine scenic and multimedia designs that enhance the story and Dante Orfei’s lighting is spot-on. The only disappointing aspect of this production is JPAC’s ever-annoying, inconsistent sound amplification. Throughout the performance various microphones went in and out, while other’s were left on while the actors were offstage. It’s sad that the final, most poignant moments of the play were ruined by bad mics.
Jedlicka has a winner with this, the opening of their 2014-15 season. A melodic, involving musical fresh from Broadway that speaks to all audiences and touches the heart is presented by a team of skilled artists and a talented cast of actor/singers. Now if JPAC will just remedy their sound system, audiences can look forward to many more wonderful productions in the near future.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 25-August 9 by the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center at Morton College, 3801 S. Central Ave., Cicero, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 708-656-1800 or by going to www.jpactheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.