Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Slow Burn Theatre: Big Fish (reviews)

BCPA_BigFish_1695X953Slow Burn Theatre Company opened its production of the musical Big Fish at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on October 22, 2015.

Based on the celebrated novel and acclaimed film, Big Fish centers on Edward, a traveling salesman, who lives life to the fullest and then some! His incredible, larger-than-life stories thrill everyone around him—most of all, his devoted wife. But their son, Will, who will soon have his own child, is determined to find the truth behind his father’s epic tales. Big Fish swims deftly between two worlds: the lush, vibrant world of Edward’s fantasies and the subtler world of Will’s reality. Overflowing with heart and humor, Big Fish is an extraordinary new Broadway musical that reminds us why we love going to the theatre – for an experience that’s richer, funnier and BIGGER than life itself.

Patrick Fitzwater directed a cast that included Shane Tanner, Ann Marie Olson, Justen Fox-Hall, Anjane Girwarr, Gabe Sklar, Ben Sandomir, Leah Marie Sessa, Christopher Mitchell, Matthew Korinko, Kendra Williams, Geoffrey Short, Emily Tarallo, Brian Varela, Corey Vega, James Patrick Giordano, Nicole Kinzel, Meaghan Nagy and Joshua Conner..


Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:

A new era has begun in the Broward Center’s renovated Amaturo Theater, where the award-winning Slow Burn Theatre has just opened the first South Florida production of the Broadway musical Big Fish.

Betting on Slow Burn, which has already produced 23 musicals in its short history, is a smart move for the Broward Center. Director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater, who founded the company with partner Matthew Korinko, has demonstrated his mastery of a wide range of musicals... And he has demonstrated that he can breathe new life into musicals like Side Show — and now Big Fish — that didn’t last long on Broadway.

Two South Florida musical theater treasures, Shane Tanner and Ann Marie Olson, lead the cast as Edward Bloom and his wife Sandra.

Tanner’s task is almost Herculean. He’s rarely off stage, and he’s following in the footsteps of Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz, who created the role. No problem here: Tanner is charismatic yet down to earth, vocally nuanced, persuasive as he explores the varied aspects of Edward’s character. He is terrific leading the cast…

Olson journeys from Auburn co-ed (watch for the joke about that) to an older woman on the cusp of widowhood. She’s a magnetic performer with a beautiful voice, and her tender, gorgeous solo I Don’t Need a Roof becomes the show’s most moving number.

The leads are surrounded by talent both seasoned and young. Newcomer Justen Fox-Hall brings his powerful voice to the role of the frustrated, grown-up Will, a young man who gains insight into his maddening father when it’s nearly too late. Gabe Sklar brings the same dubious nature to Young Will. Ben Sandomir is a presence as Edward’s rival, Don Price, and Leah Marie Sessa is memorable as Edward’s first love, Jenny Hill.

Big Fish is an impressive addition to the offerings at the Broward Center. It’s a win-win for the center, for Slow Burn and for audiences who love musical theater.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:

This is what we in the erudite and rarefied profession of theatrical criticism refer to as a goddam rave review.

With this production of Big Fish, Slow Burn Theatre Company has proven itself with no asterisks to be the equal of any company producing musicals in the region, some with far more resources, government grants and well-heeled donors — not to mention among the most adventurous in tackling what few others attempt.

This benchmark production for a company that has outgrown the term fledgling is suffused with a joy that reflects both the material and a celebration of Slow Burn’s arrival as the resident theater company at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts… this is a validating graduation day for Slow Burn and a step further in the Broward Center’s commitment to become a co-producing house rather than just a host for visiting productions.

…every aspect of the production, even those that have nothing to do with hardware or money, shows a noticeable ratcheting up of quality in every department even though virtually everyone connected to the show has worked with Slow Burn before. Everything is sharper, stronger, more confident, more polished. Clearly, everyone felt a self-imposed challenge to step up their game.

Fitzwater’s deft direction and choreography infuse the show with energy and commitment to the beauty and whimsy of the work. The show is rife with large production spectaculars of dancing creatures and small poignant numbers that give credibility to its stubbornly optimistic and upbeat attitude.

Start with Shane Tanner. Back in April when he stole The Wick Theatre production of the show Oklahoma as Jud, we wrote, “…he’s rarely been given the extended parts he earned long ago. His work here made us yearn to see him in a musical theater lead worthy of his talents.”

Boy, did we ever call that one. And does he ever… it is an unreserved tribute to the superb acting and singing abilities of Tanner with Fitzwater’s direction that give Edward depth.  Tanner’s creation of a pure-hearted dreamer is so winning that the audience is charmed into going along for the ride even as you scoff at the tall tales. Tanner’s Edward so completely believes the fantasies that he spins that you stop caring whether they’re true or not.

…far too slowly, the theater world here has been noticing the talent and skill of Olson…  Her glorious voice is like liquid sound, capable of caressing the heart-rending solace to the dying man she loves in “I Don’t Need A Roof” and belting out the silly USO show number “Red, White and True.” Her flashing eyes and huge smile radiate vitality. Sandra is a tougher role than it looks, easily devolving into a one-note of steadfast adoration. But Olson is an actress first and she brings subtle colorations as well as that unswerving commitment to the interior of the part.

Fox-Hall is a South Florida native, really not seen much locally other than in the huge ensemble of Actors’ Playhouse’s Ragtime last season. You’ll see a lot more of him from now on. First, he has a soaring expressive voice that elicited the longest mid-show ovation for his angst-riven exploration of his problematic relationship with his father in the number “Stranger.” Second, he, too, has conquered another one-note kind of role by delving deep into Will’s complex alienation.

Girwarr not only sounds lovely but brings a sense of optimism and welcoming nature that plausibly counter-balances Will’s cynicism.

But trust us. This only runs two more weekends. If you miss this, you only have yourselves to blame…


Slow Burn Theatre Company presents its production of the musical Big Fish at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through November 8, 2015.

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