Concordia Theatre’s annual fall musical, “Big Fish,” swims to the stage this Friday – and the fictitious fish is not all that promises to be larger-than-life.
Based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel and Tim Burton’s 2003 film, “Big Fish” centers on the relationship between traveling salesman Edward Bloom and his adult son Will. Edward is admired by everyone around him for his fantastical stories – everyone, that is, except for Will. As Edward nears the end of his life and Will prepares to become a father himself, Will seeks to find the truth behind his father’s epic tales.
The musical alternates between two different timelines: the present and Edward’s storybook past. While traveling through time, audience members meet everyone from a giant named Karl to a witch with the power to predict one’s cause of death.
With such enormous stories to tell, the cast and crew have had to scale up every element of production.
“It’s like a big working machine where you have the singing, the acting and the dancing all interwoven together, as well as the technical elements,” said senior Justin Odney, who plays the role of Edward. “There’s a lot of different elements that go into just making the set itself, and then actually telling the story and being the characters that are larger than life. You have to kind of be over the top.”
The cast itself consists of nearly 40 members, more than double that of last year’s fall musical, “Company.” For director Sally Story, the decision to stage a show with room for a large ensemble was intentional.
“It’s one of the biggest shows I’ve directed,” Story said. “I just think we need to do that here, if not once a year then every other year, to just give students more opportunity.”
“Big Fish” is also one of the most dance-intensive musicals Concordia Theatre has produced in recent years. To execute the show’s numerous dance numbers, including the tap number “Red, White, and True” and the iconic “Alabama Stomp,” Story enlisted the help of sophomore Lara Moll.
For Moll, who has seven years of tap, ballet and jazz training but no previous choreography experience under her belt, the process has been an exciting, yet intimidating, challenge.
“I am very picky with this show, because I just don’t want it to look bad,” Moll said.
There are some big numbers and there are some small little ones, but I still want them all to look good and resonate with the audience.”
This particular production has posed an additional challenge to Moll, as she has had to coordinate the dance numbers around large – and sometimes mobile – set pieces.
The set for “Big Fish” is centered on three rotating platforms. There are also pyrotechnics, flying buildings, fight scenes and actors on stilts. The task of ensuring that all of these moving parts are in the right place at the right time is left to stage manager, Lauren Veit.
Veit, who is using the show for her senior thesis, agrees with Story; this is the most complex show she has ever been a part of.
“It’s the biggest fish,” Veit said. “I’ll do a show sometimes that’ll have a lot of choreography, or I’ll do a show that has a really long fight call, or I’ll do a show that’s really technically heavy. What’s really cool about ‘Big Fish’ is it has all of those aspects. It’s all hands on deck from all angles.”
When putting together a large show with several moving parts, Veit said, the key to avoiding disaster is communication between everyone involved – actors, directors, designers and technicians. For “Big Fish,” that has meant holding weekly production meetings, getting props and set pieces in as early in the rehearsal process as possible, and acquainting actors with the technical effects.
“The effort that everybody’s been putting in, the teamwork and the communication that everyone’s been putting in, has been making it go really smoothly,” Veit said. “There are times when I feel it could have gotten very stressful. Things go wrong and things happen, but it didn’t. It’s been good, and that’s because of where we are as a department.”
The stage has been set, the dance steps perfected, and the camouflage curtains drawn. Now, with opening night just one day away, the cast and crew are ready to see their big fish come to life.
“There’s just something really beautiful and mesmerizing about [‘Big Fish’], and that whole art of storytelling really comes through in this where you get to watch Edward live out these stories that he’s created,” Story said. “Hopefully [audience members] will have their heart warmed a little bit, they’ll be able to relate to it, they’ll be entranced by it, and they’ll go on the journey with us.”
“Big Fish” runs Nov. 11- 14 and 17-19. Concordia students, faculty and staff get one free ticket. Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for other students and senior citizens.
The Box Office can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (218) 299-3314.
Katie Beedy (’18) is co-Editor-in-Chief of the Concordian. She is majoring in multimedia journalism and communication studies. Her work has been featured by Emerging Prairie, where she interned in the summer of 2016, and at concordiacollege.edu/blog.