‘Big Fish’ at McLean High School’s Theatre Company

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Attention all Broadway producers of a musical that shuttered much too quickly on Broadway: bring that show to the ‘Show Doctors’ at McLean High School’s Theatre Company and let Surgeon/Director Amy Poe perform some CPR on your show and – voila! – you won’t believe your eyes and ears!

he world is a circus for Edward Bloom (Alex Stone and friends) in MTC's production of 'Big Fish.' Photo by Isabel Zapata.
he world is a circus for Edward Bloom (Alex Stone and friends) in MTC’s production of ‘Big Fish.’ Photo by Isabel Zapata.

Big Fish moved to Broadway in the Fall of 2013 after a critically acclaimed production in Chicago. It had everything going for it, especially its magical cast: Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz (Edward Bloom), Kate Baldwin (Sandra Bloom), Bobby Steggert (Will Bloom), and DC’s own Brad Oscar (Amos Calloway). Tony Award winner Larry Hochman provided the beautiful orchestrations, and the production was choreographed and directed by multiple Tony Award winner Susan Stroman.

The score (music and lyrics) is by Andrew Lippa and the book is based on the 1998 novel, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, by Daniel Wallace, and Tim Burton’s 2003 wacky movie Big Fish, written by John August, who adapted his screenplay for the stage.

Big Fish officially opened on October 6, 2013 after four weeks of previews at The Neil Simon Theatre. After playing  34 previews and 98 regular performances, they frankly, could not ‘reel in’ any theatregoers and it, excuse the pun, ‘floundered’ at the box office, and closed on December 29, 2014.

So here I am, a huge fan of McLean High School productions, sitting with my notebook and pens with a box of fish gummies in my top shirt pocket, just in case I needed a little Vitamin E…

And what I saw in front of me in the very packed Burks Auditorium was a production of the highest caliber because of contributions made by:

-The innovative Director Amy Poe and Assistant Director Emma Gold

-Choreographer and Set Designer Marielle Burt and her Assistant Choreographers Becca Stewart, and Jamie Wertz.

-Lighting Designer Jared Jacknow.

-Technical Supervisor Aaron Fensterheim.

-Set Construction Head Ben French, Faris Assadi, Luke Gagorik, and Joe Miller.

-Costume Heads Miranda Creason, MarzanneDeLapp de Anaya, Jess Scarano, and Breezy Johnson, who also served along with Thomas Kelty, as the very busy Stage Managers.

-Hair and Makeup Head Sydney Studds.

-Sound Heads Zach Alvarez, Emma Knapp, and Sound Head and Live Sound Mixer Max Spell.

-Special Effects Heads Avery Madore, Isabel Zapata, and Leo Grandinetti.

-Props Heads Camille Calderon and Brittany Regas, and so many others who made up the designer crews (too many to list here)-who all helped to create magic!

The dream of Edward Bloom (Alex Stone) takes an ugly turn with son Will (Jack Posey) leading the pack. Photo by Isabel Zapata
The dream of Edward Bloom (Alex Stone) takes an ugly turn with son Will (Jack Posey) leading the pack. Photo by Isabel Zapata

The McLean Theatre Company’s set crew pushed the limits of their space by using sliding walls, staircases on tracks and a motorized platform to bring both the fantasy and reality elements of Big Fish to life. The entire stage, from floor to walls, was covered with plywood, and it looked like a mini-Wolf Trap. Against this naturalistic backdrop, the mechanized and moving elements delivered various scenes seamlessly, providing a multi-tiered space suitable for everything from the big ensemble dance numbers to intimate duets among the leads. It was awesome and a visual treat!

This new Big Fish – with its kooky (and sometimes confusing) duel storylines – felt fresh and heartfelt – all due to the knockout performances of its leads and its talented ensemble and dancers, and the fine musicians conducted by Musical Director Walter “Bobby” McCoy.

Big Fish is about Edward Bloom (Alex Stone), a traveling salesman, who spins outrageous stories which everyone in his town loves, especially his wife Sandra (Rachel Lawhead). The only person who does not appreciate the stories and questions their validity is Edward and Sandra’s son Will (Jack Posey). Will is about to get married to his girlfriend Josephine (Emma Gold) and the relationship between father and son is strained. The lack of communication, mistrust, frustration, the arguing and the making up, and the love we all experience, and finding out what ‘the real story is’ – is the heart of this musical.

When Mclean Theatre Company’s Big Fish dances and sings and acts out Edward’s crazy stories there is beaucoup joy that permeates over the audience. And when Giants slither across the stage, and dancers are twirling from the ceiling – a la Cirque du Soleil, and a Witch (Helena Doms) appears, and we are at the circus – the show is awesome!

And when a field of Daffodils envelopes the stage- it’s a glorious and sunny filled with lots of big smiles all around the place, and lots of cheers from the appreciative audience.

When the Second Act opens with a tap extravaganza called “Red, White, and True,” it’s breathtaking and ‘toe-tapping.’ And when there is sadness there is hope, and love, and family, and the realization that the new generation – Will’s young son  and Edward’s grandson – must hear his grandfather’s tales and learn from Edward’s stories. And the tears that are wiped away all around me – they’re real.

Time stops for Sandra (Rachel Lawhead) and Edward (Alex Stone) as their story begins.  Photo by Isabel Zapata.
Time stops for Sandra (Rachel Lawhead) and Edward (Alex Stone) as their story begins. Photo by Isabel Zapata.

From the moment Alex Stone’s Edward walks on the stage he grabs the audience in the palms of his hands and never lets go. His rousing rendition of ‘Be the Hero” sets the stage ablaze for his energetic ‘Harold Hill-ian’ performance, and the amount of energy Stone exudes throughout the show is Herculean. His rendition of “How it Ends” at the end of the Second Act is heartbreaking and displays Stone’s exceptional vocal skills.

Alex Stone is a rare singer who knows how to ‘sell’ each and every lyric and the all-time greatest’ lyric seller’ – Frank Sinatra – I bet – would have loved watching Stone’s sell Andrew Lippa’s lyrics.

Rachel Lawhead is a pillar of strength and patience as Edward’s devoted wife Sandra. Not only is Lawhead a fabulous actress, but she is also a fine singer. She shows her vocal and acting skills in the moving “Two Men in My Life” and “I Don’t Need a Roof.” She and Stone have so much chemistry on the stage, and their love for each other peaks in “Time Stops” and “Daffodils,’ which ends the First Act.

Will (Jack Posey) (RIGHT) helps his father, Edward (Alex Stone), imagine what's next. Photo by  Isabel Zapata.
Will (Jack Posey) (RIGHT) helps his father, Edward (Alex Stone), imagine what’s next. Photo by Isabel Zapata.

Jack Posey is perfection as their frustrated son, Will. Posey is also both a fine actor and a terrific singer and his rendition of “Stranger” is delivered with great emotion, as is “What’s Next” with Stone in the Second Act.

I have seen all three of these performers in other productions all through the DC Metro area. I am a big admirer all these ‘Rising Stars.’ Here, in Big Fish, they have done some of their finest work.

Edward Bloom (Alex Stone) and his young son Will (Linus Stroik) Fight the Dragons. Photo by Isabel Zapata.
Edward Bloom (Alex Stone) and his young son Will (Linus Stroik) Fight the Dragons. Photo by Isabel Zapata.

Other performances that deserve praise are Emma Gold’s Josephine – Will’s new and devoted wife, and mother to their new son. Linus Stroik, who plays Young Will, and Alex Stone make the perfect grandfather and grandson during “Fight The Dragons,” and Matt Lucero is great as the lovable Karl the Giant. Thomas Kelty was so convincing as the jilted Don Price, while Helena Doms makes a perfectly-scary witch. Will Stockton is creepy as Amos Calloway, while Stephanie Bourland made a lot of waves as the Mermaid, Jeffery Nolan is priceless as Zacky Price, and Nicole Sheehan is convincingly sad and disappointed as the mysterious Jenny Hill.

McLean Theatre Company’s Big Fish is a huge undertaking and a major accomplishment by one of the most accomplished and honored theatre programs anywhere. I urge you to grab a few tickets and enjoy all the talent on and off the stage. There’s dazzling vocals, gorgeous costumes and design, and great dancing. You’ll be hooked like I was. Come on – just go  for the halibut!

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Big Fish plays Friday, February 27th at 7 pm;Saturday February 28th at 2 pm;Saturday February 28th at 7 pm, and Sunday March 1st at 7 pm at McLean Theatre Company, performing at the Burks Auditorium’s Black Box Theatre-633 Davidson Road, in McLean, Virginia. For tickets, purchase them at the door or purchase them online.

LINK:
McLean Theatre Company Presents the Musical ‘Big Fish’ on February 16, 19-22nd by Brent Stone. 

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.