Behind the Curtain with Lauren Clarke: IHSTF “Big Fish” makes a splash

Lauren Clarke, in-depth editor

The Illinois High School Theatre Festival All-State production of “Big Fish” was an energetic tale that left the audience in tears. It’s a story of love, family and the power of inspiration. Edward Bloom has always told larger-than-life tales about his life and his son, although Will has a hard time believing them, especially because he’s all grown up with a kid on the way. But when he discovers that his father is dying, Will seeks the truth, straining tension in the family.

This show flips back and forth from Edward’s stories to present day and it’s not until the closing number that audiences fully understand. At the IHSTF production, many audience members left the theater crying, but that could also be due to the fact that the audience was mainly comprised of high school theater kids. “Big Fish” is a whirlwind of emotions that leave you with a new perspective on life.

The entire cast was made up of high school students from around the state of Illinois. They’re students who are committed to the arts and are clearly passionate about theater. From D214, senior Trevor North and Hersey senior Theo Brown were a part of this select cast. The crew and orchestra were also high school students. Rehearsals to prepare for this production took place various weekends from August through December in Tinley Park and the week leading up to the performances at Illinois State University.

The set was incredible; at most times it was simplistic with light projections to create the scene, and some of the pieces were lifted up, making scene changes seamless. The orchestra pit wasn’t in the traditional spot in front of the stage but backstage instead because the pit was used for other purposes. During some scenes, the platform was raised so that the stages was larger.

The ensemble of the show had over 30 cast members, and they were perfectly in sync for every large dance number. In the first musical number, “Be The Hero,” the ensemble was a variety of characters that are introduced throughout the course of the show. Every ensemble character was interesting to watch even when they weren’t the focal point of the scene. They were energetic and always doing something.

A few cast members who stood out were the ones with specialized talents. There were actresses who were aerial performers, in sync with each other during the musical number “The Witch.” Multiple featured dancers were also gymnasts, and during one scene they had cheer stunts. One of the characters, the giant named Carl, was on stilts in almost scene he was in. In the second act, it opened with a tap number “Red, White And True” and the featured dancer, Red Fang, was an amazing tap dancer. Throughout the show there were supporting lead roles that were flawless in their performances.

One of my favorite songs in the show was “Time Stops.” When Edward Bloom meets his future wife Sandra, it’s love at first sight and everything slows down. In the movie that this musical is based off of, everything in the scene completely stops except for Edward, hence the title “Time Stops.” It takes place in a circus, so the ensemble members slowed down their actions perfectly to match the music. There were acrobats on rings and tumblers in the circus and each actor was an individual character. The costumes were original and the ensemble had multiple costume changes.

The choreography throughout the show fit the music and the cast executed it seamlessly and energetically. My favorite dance number was “Showdown,” when Edward imagines Will confronting him about his stories and accusing him of having an affair. It’s theme is the Wild West as Edward was watching an old cowboy movie. The ensemble was dressed as cowboys, saloon girls and pioneers and they threaten Edward throughout the song, making it an energetic nightmare.

In the end, Will realizes that his father’s tales weren’t just meant to make him the hero saving everyone, but an inspiration to his son. He finally has closure in understanding his father. Will tells his son the tales, in “Be The Hero (Reprise),” bringing the story in a full circle. “Big Fish” is an emotional tale that teaches multiple lessons, including the lesson of the power of transformation.