Fifth show of Timber Lake Playhouse season opened last night with “Big Fish,” and – no lie — a big deal.
Based on a 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace subtitled “a novel of mythic proportions,” it became a film adaptation by Tim Burton, then morphed its way into a Broadway musical with book by John August, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa.
The two acts chronicle tall tales of character Edward Bloom, or the answer to “How big was the fish?” His wild exaggerations have wife Sandra fooled, as well as son Will from the beginning, enjoying his strut through a larger-than-life image in song, “Be The Hero.” As his stories become more unbelievable, so does the action, much like lively renditions that we describe after awakening from dreams.
As quickly as Bloom’s tales begin, the characters fall out of the set to back up the story. Whether circus scenes, travel by catapulting from a cannon or being a war hero, his life regurgitates a powerhouse of swagger.
At some point, however, he sees his life passing before him, especially as Will questions how real and unreal the stories of his childhood.
This makes for a perfect recipe of colorful characters, song and dance, and general chaotic entertainment. Directed and choreographed by TLP artistic director Jim Beaudry, the show lives up to a promise to appreciate all things creative. Beaudry’s signature work is most evident especially with the war hero theme in “Red, White & True” where he grasps era moves with historical flavor. High camp moves weave their way in and out as well whenever circus tappers or left-feet appear as in “Ashton’s Favorite Son” scene.
Chicago actor Karl Hamilton embraces the role of Bloom with bluster and prowess. As a special actor whose solid performance and tenor voice make him a TLP favorite. Twice he has performed “Footloose” as the staid Reverend Shaw Moore in ’02 and ’12 with remarkable growth and even more depth the second time around. His TLP roles also include the Captain in “Sound of Music,” Tateh in “Ragtime,” and Lawrence Jameson in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” He has made many more appearances in Chicago area theatres including Goodman Theatre, Drury Lane Oakbrook, and The Marriott.
Bloom’s stage wife (and offstage wife) Elizabeth Haley brings her marvelous soprano element to the role of adoring wife Sandra. Her many Chicago area credits include recently performing with Chicago Symphony Chorus at Carnegie Hall. For this show, she exhibits a special blend of innocence and romance in “Time Stops” and “I Don’t Need a Roof.”
Two sons for ‘Fish’ stories are required when the tales go all over time. Samuel Leicht as grown son searching for his father’s truth brings his vocal steadiness and idealistic element in “Stranger,” and “Showdown. Daxtun Heier as Young Will is a well cast spitting image, often at bedside stories, and excellent in “Fight the Dragons.”
Swamp scene boasts the character of “The Witch,” by Paige ManWaring, as eerie as the skirt reflections by designer Emma O’Dell. Lovely dancer Holly Moss brings on the Mermaid element – if the fish tale is big, then the mermaid is more beautiful than most.
An extraordinary feat on what seems two story stilts (maybe another fish tale) of Karl the Giant is performed by P.J. Wilborn who tap dances with ease as well as swirls easily in a tornado episode with Bloom.
Big TLP company of some 20 characters, big show of props by Cassidy Parkison, big sets including invasion of daffodils by Benjamin Lipinski and big ideas in this show.
“Big Fish” runs tonight and eleven more performances through August 9 at Timber Lake Playhouse, 8215 Black Oak Road, in the boonies of Mt. Carroll. All evening performances are 7:30 p.m., (no show on Monday), four 2 p.m. matinees August 1, 2, 5 and 9. Group rates available. Tickets go fast. Contact the box office at (815) 244-2035 or www.timberlakeplayhouse.org for more information.