Saturday, March 22, 2014

"The Big Show" by Theatre Forever at the Southern Theater

I grew up on game shows. Shows like The 10,000 Dollar Pyramid, Hollywood Squares, The Joker's Wild, and my favorite, Family Feud. Theatre Forever's The Big Show hearkens back to those good old days, and it's great fun. But it also digs a little deeper as popular host Jackie Cartwright takes the opportunity of his final show to look back on his life and the sacrifices he made to get where he is. In addition to being funny and entertaining, The Big Show is also sad and poignant at times, with some really beautiful images created in the gorgeous space that is the Southern Theater. Unfortunately the show is closing tonight, so let me get right down to it:
  • Brant Miller as Jackie Cartwright is, as always, so funny and inventive and totally committed to his character. Jackie is a combination of every game show host from the 70s, with more than a little Richard Dawson and his penchant for kissing the ladies and the catch phrase "survey says!" But there's a desperation just underneath the big personality, as he contemplates what his life will be like now that the show is ending after he pushed everything aside for it.
  • This wonderful ensemble (who also helped to create the piece along with director Jon Ferguson, Dominic Orlando, and Brant Miller) includes Joanna Harmon and Tony Sarnicki as game show contestants, as well as Jackie's wife and son; Katelyn Skelley and Leslie O'Neil as the game show assistants/dancers with their perfect 70s hair; and Mark Benzel and Robert Haarman as a couple of stagehands that help to set the scenes both in the game show and in Jackie's life.
  • The trippy 70s vibe is fantastic, and the women's costumes are especially fab, from the flowy pastel dresses of Jackie's assistants, made for twirling, to Joanna's super cool floral jumpsuit.
  • The lighting (designed by Per Olson) helps to create the mood of reflection, with some really lovely effects created by the hanging light bulbs and light bulbs on sticks wielded by the cast. Various props are also put into effect, my favorite being the single feather that softly and elegantly falls from the ceiling. Jackie has an obsession with the night sky, which comes into play in the beautiful ending. 
A note in the program summarizes the impetus for the show as such: "Brant wanted to make a game show, Jon wanted to make a piece about afterlife, and Dominic wanted to make a piece about a nervous breakdown on television." Mission accomplished on all fronts. Fresh and original, with a touch of nostalgia, tons of humor, and some really lovely moments such as the one below.