In their most ambitions production yet, Emerald City Theatre proudly presents the adventures of The Fantastic Mr. Fox on the two story Victory Gardens mainstage. Kicking off their 22nd season, Director Jacqueline Stone and company bring one of British author Ronald Dahl’s most beloved 1970’s children’s books to life. Falling right in line with his other classics, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, The Fantastic Mr. Fox relies heavily on “pure imagination.” Emerald City mounts another impressive piece to “celebrate all of Chicago’s children through playful, professional and culturally relevant artistic programs that motivate young people to creatively face the world.” The lessons here might be a bit fuzzy, it is tough to get behind a hero best known for stealing, but if you focus on the thieving as an avenue to feed his family and the neighboring woodland creatures, this feisty fox proves fun for all.
Relying on his natural cunning and charisma to rise above the opposition, Mr. Fox (Mario Aivazian) is easy to enjoy. Whether wiggling his long tail or engaging the kiddos in the first few rows, Aivanzian carries the piece with effortless zeal. Pulling double duty as both narrator and the Badger, Brianna Buckley is all moxie and dash, sporting a whimsical hairpiece more Scary Spice than unground forager. With Mrs. Fox (Tia Pinson) and their two children (Rebecca Keeshin and Adhana Reid) in tow, Mr. Fox has it all, including a short but potent enemies list. This troika of bad guys include Boggis (Aaron Lawson) Bunce (Isa Arciniegas) and Bean (Jeffrey Hoge) who chew the scenery as equally as they try to defeat the fanciful, marvelous and mischievous Mr. Fox.
Once again, if you look past the fact this feisty fox is a thief, stealing each farmer’s prize chickens, ducks, geese and cider to feed his crew, then the show will go along swimmingly. Honestly, Mr. Fox continued to use his ingenuity and imagination throughout to constantly outwit these pesky farmers “all three of them were about as nasty and mean as any men you could meet.” You’ll find yourself cheering as he becomes the hero of both the forest and his family. When the farmers ambush the wily fox, they only succeed in managing to cut off his long and luxurious tail. By the time they bring in spades and excavators as pest control, the audience is squarely behind the Robin Hood-esque patriot, not only providing for his own family, but by now also rabbits and badgers and squirrels, oh my! Does he win out in the end? Well, it’s a family show so you can easily guess. Buying a ticket certainly helps too.
Clearly having a ball, the score orchestrated by Music Director, Julia Schade Armstrong, is a combination of earthy bluegrass stylings which will have you tapping a toe more than once. Jamal Howard’s choreography will undoubtedly leave you with a smile on your face. The real news here is Michelle Lilly’s dynamic scenic design. Of course Emerald City is not Broadway in Chicago, but you can see every penny spent on the metallic skeleton of a two story set, larger than any previous set piece I can recall. Alison Siple’s costuming is garage sale chic, repurposing everyday garments into woodland creature couture. The Diana Ross inspired badger’s coat is the stuff of any drag queen’s Halloween fantasy and must be seen to be believed. Keith Parham’s dramatic lighting added necessary suspense and drama as well.
What I enjoy most about Emerald City is their laser like focus to get the children of Chicago exposed to the arts. From putting books into the hands of low income students at very early ages to exposing them to the cultural riches of live theatrical productions, Emerald City is sincerley their own masterful wizard. No smoke, no mirrors, no magic man behind the curtain. Bringing their latest to the larger Victory Gardens Theatre mainstage is a true feather in their cap. While the hero of his tale might be a little dubious in the eyes of the adults attending, by the show’s conclusion, the little ones around me were equally engaged and entranced and that is what this show is all about. This feisty, Fantastic Mr. Foxbrought festive fun and frivolity to all.
Emerald City Theatre’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox is now playing at the Victory Gardens Theatre through January 12, 2019.