Authors: Andrew Lippa and John August
At: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: BoHoTheatre.com or 773-975-8150; $25-$35. Runs through: Nov. 17
When Big Fish had its' pre-broadway Chicago tryout back in 2013, director Susan Stroman and team tried to fill in story gaps and engineer wonder with spectacle. If a song or a scene wasn't hitting an "earned" emotional tone, surely a lavish dance number or visual ( like a wall of daffodils ) would. In their rendition, BoHo theatre has opted to keep things simple, accessible and capture the heart of a father-son journey.
I have some of the same gripes with the property that I did back in 2013; every female character takes a backseat to the man she dotes on, and there's a strong insistence on trusting and allowing atypical white men their fantasies. But director Stephen Schellhardt and music director Michael McBride have at least managed to shake off the dust of their predecessors and create a singular experience.
In Big Fish, Will Bloom ( Jeff Pierpoint ), successful reporter with a devoted wife Josephine ( Nicole Besa ) and a baby on the way, is called back home to be with his ailing father Edward ( Tommy Thurston ). The two are at lifelong loggerheads because Edward is prone to wild stories which delight many, but Will would prefer that his father told him the truth. Edward fictionalizes his hometown witch ( Caitlin Dobbins ), meeting his wife Sandra ( Kyrie Anderson ), and joining Amos Calloway's ( Sean Michael Barrett ) circus with his giant friend Karl ( Robert Quintanilla ). But, as the family settles Edward's affairs, some long buried documents indicate Edward may be hiding a secret life from them all. Both father and son must learn to trust each other with their whole stories.
Director Stephen Schellhardt finds the magic in keeping stage action simple, and with songs scored intimately by a six-piece orchestra, less is truly more. What sparkles more than anything is an array of vocal performers who've never met a heart string they couldn't expertly tug. Kyrie Anderson and Nicole Besa are so joyous and resounding as Sandra and Josephine Bloom, it's a crime that they factor into the music so little. The women of Big Fish are relegated to being glamorous fictions or portents of impending reality to the Bloom men, at least until Anderson knocks "I Don't Need a Roof" directly into your tear ducts.
That leaves us with Tommy Thurston and Jeff Pierpoint, both astoundingly captivating in their roles as father and son. Pierpoint is so affable and genuine as Will Bloom, it's hard not to see reason in his impassioned pleas to his father. As Edward Bloom, Tommy Thurston can smooth talk you into nearly anything. Thurston balances on the razor's edge between wholesome and shifty, selfish and selfless. These performers are reason enough to get your rod and tackle.