Slow Burn Theatre, the plucky local troupe that got its start five years ago at West Boca High School, has graduated—with honors. The company made its much anticipated debut last weekend in the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater with a laudable production of “Big Fish.”
The company, founded by Patrick Fitzwater and Matthew Korinko, has made a name for itself particularly by tackling commercially challenged Broadway shows, many with cult followings.
For the first show of the 2015-16 season, Slow Burn chose “Big Fish,” based on David Wallace’s 1998 novel and a 2003 film directed by Tim Burton. With mixed reviews, the 2013 Broadway adaptation from Andrew Lippa and John August closed after just 34 previews and 98 performances.
The story revolves around the relationship between traveling salesman Edward Bloom and his son, Will. Throughout all of the boy’s life, he has been regaled with his mostly absent father’s tall tales—encountering mermaids, meetings giants, traveling with the circus, fighting Nazi spies in the war, meeting his bride—but as Will prepares to marry and start a family, he yearns for the real story.
It’s a sentimental story and certainly one that is a challenge to stage, especially for a small regional company that has been known for fiscal restraint. But, in their new venue and an enthusiastic producing partner in the Broward Center, director/choreographer Patrick Fitzwater, the creative team and performers rose to the challenge of successfully producing a story that literally started bigger than life.
Shane Tanner (Edward) is a natural leading man and will almost certainly garner a Carbonell nomination for his complex portrayal of a man who lives in world where reality and fantasy are so easily blurred. He easily navigates the vocal score with his clear baritone voice, setting the tone early with “Be the Hero,” a musical instruction to Will about the art of storytelling.
Ann Marie Olson, as Edward’s wife Sandra, makes the most of several musical highlights, including the touching ‘I Don’t Need a Roof,” while Justen Fox-Hall (adult Will) has the most challenging role, forced to reconcile his youthful skepticism with the unconditional love for his father.
The trio are backed up by a large ensemble of 15 singers and dancers who run the gamut of roles from townspeople and carnival performers to witches. Wearing his choreographer’s hat, Fitzwater puts them through their paces with diverse numbers ranging from spastic Afro-jazz to dainty ballroom and spirited tap. Under the direction of Emmanuel Schvartzman, the six-piece pit orchestra handled the colorful score with ease. (In his curtain speech, Fitzwater poked at the other local, unnamed theaters that purchase digital tracks and do not employ live musicians.)
The production is further accentuated by more than 500 dazzling costumes, all designed and sewn by Rick Pena, 30 to 40 wigs by Fitzwater and a beautifully painted set designed by Sean McClelland. Broadway Motion Design created the projections that provide much of the “magic.”
The challenges with the show’s book remain, especially the ending, but Slow Burn gets an “A” for effort and more importantly, an “A” for execution.
Slow Burn Theatre Co. presents “Big Fish” in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Nov. 8 Tickets are $45 at BrowardCenter.org.