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100+ students take an epic adventure in 'Big Fish' at Metea Valley High School

Metea Valley High School will wrap up its 2022-23 theater season with the musical "Big Fish."

Performances will be 7 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, April 20-22, in the high school auditorium, 1801 N. Eola Road in Aurora. Tickets are $15 or $10 for students/seniors. Tickets can purchased online at www.meteatheater.org or at the door beginning at 6 p.m.

Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the acclaimed film directed by Tim Burton, "Big Fish" centers on Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman who lives life to its fullest ... and then some. Edward's incredible, larger-than-life stories thrill everyone around him - most of all, his devoted wife, Sandra. But their son Will, about to have a child of his own, is determined to find the truth behind his father's epic tales.

Edward Bloom (Alex Vierling) professes his love for Sandra (Cael Morrow) and assures her there will be "a daffodil in every room" should they be together. Metea Valley High School's spring musical, "Big Fish," opens Thursday, April 20. Courtesy of Bari Baskin

"This show is a reminder that every choice we make impacts our life's journey and the people around us," says director Brenda Perez de Tejada. "It shows us that we can simply endure life or make a great adventure out of the many twists and turns it throws our way. At the end of the day, that is our choice to make.

"‚ÄČ'Big Fish' centers around the Bloom family and has led us to discuss what 'showing up' as a helpful and unconditionally loving family member is. We recognize how important these qualities are and how they can change each community and family that we belong to.

"We learn through the Bloom relationships that we are the most powerful and can make the most impact when we are united in empathy and compassion and this has quickly turned the 'Big Fish' cast into family. You'll find it is reflected on our stage."

"Big Fish" will be performed by a talented array of 57 actors, 16 tech students and 36 musicians, playing the original full Broadway orchestrations. Metea Valley Theater has been thrilled to fully return to the stage this year, even adding an additional children's show, which kicked off the theater season. Our motto of "Bringing Our Stories to Life" has held true throughout all of our shows this year.

Perez de Tejada responded to some questions from the Daily Herald about the show:

Edward introduces his son to all the wonderful characters from his life during Metea Valley High School's production of "Big Fish." Courtesy of Bari Baskin

Q: Why did you choose "Big Fish" for Metea Valley High School's spring musical?

A: We chose "Big Fish" this year for a multitude of reasons.

1. Like most theaters and performing arts, we have still been feeling the effects of the pandemic and we had a huge theatrical graduating class last year, so we wanted to choose a show that had a very involved ensemble. This would allow us to invite and showcase more of our talent here at Metea Valley. "Big Fish" utilizes the ensemble for various characters and they essentially are the tools that Edward uses to tell his epic tales.

2. The vocal director, Andrew Toniolo, and I adore this music, and though it is quite challenging for some principal roles, we decided to take a leap of faith and trust in the students' ability to handle it! (Spoiler alert: They are crushing it!)

The music is extremely varied in style which is really fun for me from a choreography standpoint because I get to teach and they learn multiple dance styles, which gives us the foundation to do any type of show moving forward. Dance styles in this show include waltz, Stomp, jazz, tap, contemporary, and traditional musical theater.

3. This show revolves around connection, family, and living life to the fullest. We knew that this story would allow our students to let go of their stressful days/schedules, unite them as a family, and allow them to play with these larger than life characters.

Q: How will your play differ from the original?

A: I think for those familiar with the movie but not the musical, they will find the musical to be more relatable and charming. The movie, directed by Tim Burton, is either loved or hated by audiences, and I believe that when a film evokes that strong of an opinion, it demonstrates that there is something special within the story; more that should be tapped into. Regardless, various opinions and all, I have consistently heard people say, "Artistically, that movie is stunning." So people can agree that the cinematography is quite beautiful, regardless of how disjointed the plot might feel to some.

This is why we love the musical version. We believe that it marries the artistic integrity and beauty of the movie, while filling out some of the plot holes and character intentions. The music and dance numbers also lend to further suspension of disbelief, and it allows the audience to fall more in love with all of these characters. The big production numbers make the musical feel much lighter than the movie. Which makes this show wonderful for families and children of all ages!

Q: What were the most challenging aspects of getting this production together?

A: This show is larger than life. So everything about it is a bit of a challenge. It forced this very talented team to get really creative within their roles.

First and foremost, this show is almost an hour longer than the show we did last year, which was our first musical back on stage post pandemic. So staging more material, with a cast of 58, within the same amount of time, and with the students' busy schedules was a challenge in itself.

Another challenging aspect of this particular show is making the "time traveling" make sense for our actors and audiences. We jump from present day, to 20 years earlier, to multiple fantasy worlds, and back to present day, so wrapping our heads around how to do this successfully with costuming and transitions has been a fun challenge.

And finally, with a show as fantastical as this one, figuring out how to safely create all these fantasies took some out-of-the-box thinking. For example, we meet a giant, Karl, who (as an actor) stands at 5'1" so we have decided to put him on stilts that are 2 feet tall; our costumer rose to the challenge of creating pants for his longs legs.

We also encounter a circus, and we weren't going to bring in any dancing elephants, so we hired Vertigo Rigging to install aerial silks into our space, which meant we had to teach the students how to use them, safely! There are various other elements, but you'll just have to come see.

Metea Valley High School in Aurora is presents "Big Fish," Thursday to Saturday, April 20-22. In this scene, the circus ensemble tells the audience what's going to happen next. From left, standing, are Isabella Nevarez, Rohan Basu, Bea Cavour, Isa Francisco, Shanai Ramos; and lying down, from left, are Riley Corkey, Morgan Maher and Natalie Cordero. Courtesy of Bari Baskin

Q: What did you find most rewarding?

A: Sets, staging, singing, dancing, projections, lights, transitions, props, costumes, silks, stilts. All of it has been rewarding. As mentioned above, this show is huge. So finally seeing the pieces come together this week has felt like magic, and I hope the audience experiences even a slice of the magic that we have felt.

Q: What do some of the performers have to say about the show and their role in it?

A: Kevin P. (Will Bloom): "The most rewarding part of being in this show is just being able to do the things I love while with extremely talented and dedicated performers. The laughs and jokes during the daily rehearsal, and seeing everything come together since the first rehearsal all the way back in February. The most difficult part for me, when being Will, is portraying the duality between the strenuous relationship with my dad, and the hopeful future relationship with my son. Also, this has been some of the toughest music to sing physically."

Sam K. (The Witch): "This character has such a big personality that the most fun part of playing her is leaving your own thoughts at the door, putting on a totally confident front, and leaving all of her on the stage."

Sasha B. (Dance captain): "The most rewarding part of being a dance captain is being able to lead talented dancers and watch the hard work we put into our dance scenes pay off."

Q: Anything else you'd like readers to know about this show?

A: This is such a full story, with so much happening on stage at all times. We highly recommend seeing it more than once to catch it all. Every time you see it, you will uncover more of the magic that is being created on stage by the students.

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