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‘Big Fish’ adapts larger-than-life tale at Denton’s Campus Theatre

‘Big Fish’ adapts larger-than-life tale at Denton’s Campus Theatre

Choreographer, Emily Leeka talks to the cast of the Broadway Musical, Big Fish about the things she noted to be fixed during their first full run through of the show Oct 12. The musical will be preformed at the Campus Theatre, located near the Denton square, on Oct. 20 through Oct. 22 and then again on Oct. 27 through Oct. 29. Dana McCurdy

‘Big Fish’ adapts larger-than-life tale at Denton’s Campus Theatre
October 22
16:58 2017

Edward Bloom is known for telling stories about his life that are so spectacular, they’re hard to believe.

Now, Bloom and his stories are hitting the stage in Denton.

Denton’s Campus Theatre was just in rehearsal for “Big Fish: The Musical,” which opened this past Friday.

Based on the book by Daniel Wallace, “Big Fish” recounts Bloom’s trials and tribulations. When his incredulous son investigates these stories — believing them to be complete fiction — he learns so much more about his father than he could have expected.

The show’s cast and crew features a few UNT alumni, including choreographer Emily Leekha.

“At its core, ‘Big Fish’ is a story about how every relationship and connection you make in your life influences who you are and who you become,” Leekha said. “And everyone can relate to that.”

She tends to use different styles based on what the show calls for, and she admits “Big Fish” was a bit of a challenge. The original production incorporated many diverse dances, from waltzing to ballet to clogging.

“I have tried to focus [the choreography] a little more so it feels more cohesive,” Leekha said. “Every song takes place in almost a different time because there are all these flashbacks that Edward’s having of these fantastic stories he’s telling his son. [Each] song mirrors the tone of each story.”

Music director John Norine can also attest to the diversity and complexity of the show’s music. It harkens back to the “golden age” of musical theater, invoking Rodgers and Hammerstein (“Oklahoma!” and “The Sound of Music”), but also sounds like a modern musical.

Along with this unique sound, the technical aspects of the music are challenging. Typically, musicals have an orchestra of seven to 10 people. This show, however, has 14. Norine also said the vocal music is quite difficult.

“The vocal parts are incredibly demanding, especially for the three principles,” Norine said. “Edward [Bloom] almost never leaves the stage. The other two, Will and Sandra, their music [has] a very wide range and requires a strong sense of control on their parts.”

Anthony Ortega, who plays Edward Bloom, can attest to the challenge of constantly being onstage.

“Edward’s onstage the entire time, so he’s just constantly running around and singing,” Ortega said. “Knowing how to pace yourself to get to the next song and to the next act [is important].”

Ortega’s other challenge was playing a character who is so much older than himself — which is part of the reason why he took on the role in the first place. At 24, Ortega’s main focus was “making sure I don’t come off as a child playing an old man.”

But it was not all about the challenge. Ortega also loves Bloom’s overall character.

“He’s larger than life, but so humble about it, too,” Ortega said. “He just wants to leave a legacy for himself, which is why he tells his son all of these stories.”

Luckily, the cast and crew worked together to overcome their challenges. This idea of teamwork is one reason why Leekha loves working in theater.

Leekha also loves how “human” a live performance is because every night is different and anything could happen, such as props not making it onto the stage at the right time or different audiences having different reactions. Leekha said the audience is another important part of the team.

“These people sitting in this theater are all experiencing their own personal journey of the story — collectively,” Leekha said. “Everyone’s experiencing it together. I could get all mushy and talk about it for hours.”

Leekha feels her college training, specifically from professors Bob Hess and Sally Vahle, prepared her for her career in theater.

They helped her think about how movement can be used with acting and why song and dance are incorporated into plays.

“The reason why there are songs in plays, to me, is because these people are experiencing these emotions that are so much larger than life and so overwhelming that words aren’t enough,” Leekha said. “They break out into song and dance. It’s not just, ‘OK, I’m acting in the scene and then I’m gonna stop and dance.’ It’s finding how that all connects together and tells one story from start to finish.”

Leekha first met Ortega while studying theater during her college years.

“He was the first friend I made at UNT when I was a freshman,” Leekha said. “He’s the most talented person I’ve ever known and a joy to work with.”

Connections like the one made between Leekha and Ortega represent one of the key components of “Big Fish.” Whether it be friendship, family or role models, this musical incorporates countless themes regarding the human condition.

“It tells the story of a family, of life, of death and of growing up,” Norine said. “[It’s about] our heroes and how we shape them and how we lose them, but not really. How the nature of our heroes change without necessarily the person changing.”

No matter who comes to see the show, Ortega said they’ll find a way to relate to it and the story.

“I can guarantee whoever comes and sees this will not leave unhappy,” Ortega said. “There’s so much love in it. It’s a complete distraction from everything in the real world. It’s a touching story.”

“Big Fish” runs Oct. 20-22 and 27-29 at the Campus Theatre on 214 W. Hickory Street. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.musictheatreofdenton.com/big-fish.

Featured Image: Choreographer Emily Leekha talks to the cast of the broadway musical “Big Fish” about the things she noted to be fixed during their first full run through of the show on Oct. 12. The musical will be preformed on Oct. 20-22 and Oct. 27-29. Dana McCurdy

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Camila Gonzalez

Camila Gonzalez

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