Emerald City Theatre presents FANTASTIC MR. FOX Review: An Engaging Journey for the Whole Family

Emerald City Theatre FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Ensemble of FANTASTIC MR. FOX at Emerald City Theatre Austin D. Oie

“Digga Digga Dig, Digga Digga Dig, Digga Digga Digga Digga Digga Dig Dig”

 The fox family is under a threat of attack from the farmers. They want to hunt down the foxes, and plan to dig into the ground to find them. They are determined, but the family of Mr. Fox does not intend to give up. Mr. Fox starts the chant:

Digga Digga Dig, Digga Digga Dig, Digga Digga Digga Digga Digga Dig Dig”

Not only does his family continue, but they invite the audience to join in. A chorus of young people throughout the theater joins in the chant. Not only does the fox family make their escape, but the cast managed to induct the entire audience into their ensemble – inviting the children in the room to join the family on the rest of their adventure.

Emerald City Theatre presents Fantastic Mr. Fox:

Adapted from Roald Dahl’s novel by David Wood, the play follows Mr. Fox (Mario Aivazian), a clever protagonist who faces the challenge of feeding his family from what he can find on the farms above ground. When the Farmers Boggis (Aaron Lawson), Bunce (Isa Arciniegas), and Bean (Jeffrey Hoge) decide they are going to try and exterminate the Fox Family once and for all, Mr. Fox must get creative in order to not only protect those he loves, but also save the rest of the forest.

The production is full of musical numbers by John Kirkpatrick and Peter Pontzen that explore the themes of love, family, and bravery, and performed live on stage by the actors themselves – most notably in this writer’s opinion Aivazian with the guitar, Tia Pinson (Mrs. Fox) with a beautiful vibrato, and Elleon Dobias, who in addition to playing the Badger Child, showcases immense skill on four plus instruments throughout the performance.

Emerald City Theatre FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Ensemble of FANTASTIC MR. FOX at Emerald City Theatre Austin D. Oie
Emerald City Theatre FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Ensemble of FANTASTIC MR. FOX at Emerald City Theatre Austin D. Oie

Made for a Young Audience

Director (and Emerald City Artistic Director) Jacqueline Stone creatively crafts a production that is easily accessible for an audience of all ages – beginning with the very moment that they enter the theater.

As soon as an audience member enters the space, they are met with a room full of life and energy. Members of the ensemble are walking around with balloons, and bouncing beach balls around amongst the kids. Some actors lead songs, while others walk around with their instruments, inviting the young people to play a couple notes. The atmosphere is inviting and engaging from the start – which not only helps keep the young audience engaged as they wait for the show to begin, but also appropriately sets them up for the kind of production they are about to see. These very actors with whom they have just spent time better acquainting are about to get on stage and share a story, and remain just as engaging as they were pre-show.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Ensemble of FANTASTIC MR. FOX at Emerald City Theatre Austin D. Oie

The script itself is crafted in order to remain accessible for the younger crowd through repetition, rhyme, and music, and the actors bring that to stunning life. At the helm is Brianna Buckley as the Badger/Narrator, who creates a lovely sense of chemistry with the audience and treats them as if they are another character in the show. In this particular production, young people would respond vocally to events unfolding on stage – whether it was distaste at the farmers’ attempts to rid their land of the foxes, or cheers when Mr. Fox outwitted his foes. Buckley heard these reactions and responded, creating a conversation and allowing the young people to contribute. This relationship invited the intended audience participation moments to become even livelier – such as the “digging” chant that the foxes sing as they dig their way away from the farmers and towards safety. The ending result was an atmosphere that amazed this writer, full of young people who were completely entranced from start to finish.

Creative Design

Scenic Designer Michelle Lilly creates a multi-level stage that in itself is fairly simplistic, consisting of two wooden platforms that act as “above ground” and “below ground” spaces. Lilly and Props Designer Joe Craig collaborate to create add-on pieces that come on and off stage to change location – such as a string of chickens that transforms the upper level into one of the farmer’s chicken coops, or a line of cider bottles that turns the lower level into one of the farmer’s cider cellars. Stone creates the sensation for her audience that anything can happen on this stage, and looking around in this particular performance, it was easy for this writer to see the amazement in the young audience’s eyes as the space transformed.

Emerald City Theatre FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Ensemble of FANTASTIC MR. FOX at Emerald City Theatre Austin D. Oie

Cleverly accessible storytelling and an engaging ensemble make Fantastic Mr. Fox in this writer’s opinion the perfect production for the whole family.

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

When:

Running through January 12, 2019

Thursday, January 3 at 7:00pm
Friday, January 4 at 4:00pm
Saturday, January 5 at 1:00pm and 4:00pm
Sunday, January 6 at 2:30pm and 5:00pm
Wednesday, January 9 at 10:30am
Thursday, January 10 at 10:30am
Friday, January 11 at 10:30am and 4:00pm
Saturday, January 12 at 4:00pm and 7:00pm

Running Time: 75 minutes, with intermission

Where:

Victory Gardens Theatre
2433 N Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614

For tickets and information, see the Emerald City Theatre show page.

Photo credit

Photos: Austin D. Oie

About the Author:

Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.

Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.

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