Sydney Youth Musical Theatre: Big Fish - Review by Daniel Conway
When I am not writing reviews or doing shows I am a teacher. I have been doing that nearly a decade at this point and often when asked if I still like teaching I will answer with something glib about not making anyone else money or having no marketable skills. If I really think about it though I love teaching because seeing young people grow and succeed is profound. If you are a teacher or someone with young people in your life you know the moment I am talking about. That moment when you see their face and you know they feel joy and pride and it radiates from them. I saw that moment in the fantastic cast of Sydney Youth Musical Theatre's production of Big Fish.
The tall tale telling father Edward Bloom is played exceptionally well by Felix Staas. Felix has a wonderful presence and is so watchable on stage. His physicality and energy when shifting between old and young Edward helped guide the story for the audience and his voice was just magnificent. By the time How It Ends finished I couldn't help but think, I need to keep an eye out for this young man because he is a star. His voice was not the only one that floored me. Molly Keegan who played Edward's Wife Sandra also blew me away with pipes that I could not help but be impressed at. This was never more clear than the depth of her voice in "I don't need a roof". Max Kendrick who plays William, the son of this little family also sings beautifully in his solo "Stranger" but commands the stage and has a lot of the heavier scenes. This part is not as flashy as some of the others, but Max does a wonderful job of centring the story and driving the narrative. This show is hard for young people because this family tells a story of life experience and relationships, or birth and death and grief and they are so impressive at projecting a maturity well beyond their years.
Some other key performances that I have to mention are Jackson Parker (young William) who is charming and warm on stage. Edward Joseph as Karl the Giant is really a spectacle. His stilt work was so impressive and I couldn't help but smile as he joined in the choreography. Stella Thwaites has done a wonderful job with a tricky part. Playing the less than ethical Amos, Stella is confident and commanding in a character that is well beyond her years.
By the time the cast took their bows you could see the joy and pride in each of the performers. They have all the reason in the world to be proud. They have worked hard and created a show that is bright and fun, that is full of life and joy. I wish I could list every cast member, but in the sizeable ensemble that would not be wise. What I will say is that the ensemble have done such a good job of being a cohesive and engaging force that helps to being this story to life. Not a single performer dropped character, every single person was present and reacting and they moved in the space with purpose. Shout out to circus strongman for doing the most impressive slow motion acting I have ever seen.
These young people have blown me away, but they have been guided by some very talented adults. The entire production team lead by Dylan Hayley Rosenthal (director), have done so well and should also be so proud. This production was clean and engaging. I was in love with the set design which used wood panelling to create a beautiful canvas. You can see the care that Rosenthal put into the show because the details of the show were so well crafted. An example of this is the use of projection, and while in general I question the use of projection as I don't always think it adds enough to be worth it, the use of projection in the opening number and in the beautiful "Fight the Dragons" was so captivating and beautiful. Mathew Herne (Musical Director) conducts a large band deftly and has gotten such a beautiful sound out of the ensemble. In the full ensemble songs they create a wall of sound that adds to the magic of the scene. Cameron Boxall (Choreographer) and his assistant Fiorella Bamba have created a cohesive dancing ensemble that while simple enough to cater to a range of abilities, gives their dancers moments to shine. I was particularly impressed with the tap dancing. Becky Savage as circus director has done an impressive job at ensuring the safety of everyone on stage. It takes many hands to make a show work and while I can't gush about everyone's work as so much goes unseen, there are three people I can't help but celebrate. The team of Belinda Escott, Abigail Catherine and India Escott have coordinated and designed a mammoth amount of costumes. Each one ranges from wonderful to impressive and in some cases both (Carl the giant comes to mind!).
In all productions there are things that don't go to plan and opening nights are full of nerves, so you watch knowing there are going to be some anticipated cues and some technical issues. I will say that at times the audio mixing was off, the balance between the band, sound effects and voices at points made it hard to hear the singers and there were a few times where the mics were not turned on in time for a performers dialogue or lines in a big ensemble song. These are all technical aspects that I hope will be cleaned up as the run continues because everything onstage deserves to be seen and heard. This show is a convergence of my passions, community theatre and encouraging young people, and it is truly wonderful to behold. If you are anything like me you will leave smiling. I give this show 4 stone skips out of 5.