Review: Little Fish (Kokandy Productions)

| August 3, 2017

Nicole Laurenzi stars in Little Fish, Kokandy Productions             


Little Fish

Written by Michael John LaChiusa
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru Aug 20  |  tix: $33-$38  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Capable cast can’t compensate for over-the-top
yet predictable characters


Aja Wiltshire, Curtis Bannister, Kyrie Courter, Adam Fane, Nicole Laurenzi, Teressa LaGamba, Jeff Meyer and Carl Herzog

Kokandy Productions presents
Little Fish

Review by Catey Sullivan

In Michael John LaChiusa’s Little Fish, 30something Charlotte is trying to navigate life in New York City. In the Big Apple, we see her mental state unraveling as she tries to quit smoking, taking up a frenzied series of substitutes for cigarettes such as swimming, running and seeking support from her oddball friends. Charlotte’s struggles play out as something of an urban collage, with LaChiusa flittering back and forth in time from Charlotte’s childhood to the present.

Curtis Bannister, Teressa LaGamba and Nicole Laurenzi star in Little Fish, Kokandy ProductionsThe 90-minute musical evokes Stephen Sondheim’s Company in more ways than one. LaChiusa’s music defies melodic simplicities, going instead for the kind of non-hummable (a)tonalities and unexpected rhythms that Sondheim is revered for. Like the original Company set, Little Fish plays out on a minimalist series of platforms. And Charlotte herself – like Company’s Bobby – is her own worst enemy as she seeks love, fulfillment and meaning in her life. The comparisons don’t do Little Fish any favors. Unlike Company, Little Fish lacks genuine emotional depth. As it buzzes along, most of the characters never develop beyond outlines.

Further, there’s something cold and distant about Little Fish. Charlotte’s flighty desperation over giving up nicotine feels more manically quirky than true. Her interactions with friends and acquaintances are often so nutty that their singular weirdness preempts any sense of veracity. Every character in this musical is eccentric, so much so that nobody ever feels entirely real. And in reaching for metaphors in the story of a “little fish” swimming upstream against the flotsam of life, LaChiusa veers between ham-fistedly heavy-handed and altogether opaque.

What does work in director Allison Hendrix’s fast-moving production is the music and the compelling movement. Music director Kory Danielson and choreographer Kasey Alfonso shape a show defined by rhythmic, stylized movement and vocal intricacies. The story doesn’t hang together or, ultimately, go anywhere especially satisfying. But it looks and sounds good even so.

At the center of the story is Nicole Laurenzi as Charlotte, beleaguered both physically and emotionally as she tries to quit cigarettes. In giving up the physical crutch, Charlotte is forced to confront her emotional issues as well. As she puts it in the frantic opening number: “I never knew what I was like until I stopped smoking.”

Nicole Laurenzi stars in Little Fish, Kokandy ProductionsCarl Herzog, Jeff Meyer and Nicole Laurenzi star in Little Fish, Kokandy ProductionsNicole Laurenzi, Adam Fane and Aja Wiltshire star in Little Fish, Kokandy Productions

Although she tries mightily, Charlotte can’t out-run or out-swim the troubles that boil to the surface once the distraction of nicotine is gone. Her orbit of well-meaning but sometimes less-than supportive friends is a distinctive but cartoonish crew. Kathy (Aja Wiltshire), passionately advocates visiting the lost Incan cities of Peru as a means of finding inner peace. Cinder (Teressa LaGamba) cheerfully offers cocaine. Anne Frank (Kyrie Courter) says running will help. Marco (Adam Fane) fills the sassy gay friend stereotype, while Robert (Casey Hayes) is the total heel of an asshole boyfriend that spurs Charlotte to flee snowy, upstate Buffalo and make for New York City. In NYC, Charlotte also contends with a handsy boss and a pair of bizarrely outspoken creeps who work as lifeguards at the Y.

Like the lifeguards’ unapologetically sexist, objectifying barrage of bro-banter, LaChiusa goes for extremes. Boyfriend Robert is such a jerk it’s tough to imagine Charlotte sticking with him through a first date, never mind a live-in relationship. As Charlotte’s first NYC roommate, Cinder is so rambunctiously outspoken in her drug use she reads more clown than actual person. Ironically, Charlotte herself remains a wide-eyed enigma throughout.

In the end, Little Fish leaves you with the banality: It’s best to swim in schools comprised of the people you love. Putting a stop to addictive behavior can open up new avenues in life.

The cast of Little Fish is capable enough, and make beautiful music together. The show sinks, nonetheless, because it’s both predictable and rooted in over-the-top characters.

Rating: ★★½

Little Fish continues thru August 20 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $33-$38, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Nicole Laurenzi, Teressa LaGamba and Aja Wiltshire star in Little Fish, Kokandy Productions

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




Curtis Bannister (John Paul), Kyrie Courter (Anne Frank), Adam Fane (Marco), Casey Hayes (Robert, August 1–20), Carl Herzog (Mr Bunder), Teressa LaGamba (Cinder), Nicole Laurenzi (Charlotte), Jeff Meyer (Robert, July 9-30), Aja Wiltshire (Kathy), Darren Patin (dance captain, u/s John Paul, Marco), Brittany Stock (u/s Kathy), Missy Wise (u/s Charlotte).


Kory Danielson (conductor, keyboard), Charlotte Rivard-Hoster (keyboard 2), Mike Matlock (reeds), Kyle McCullough (guitar), Jake Saleh (bass), Scott Simon (percussion).

behind the scenes

Michael John LaChiusa (music, book, lyrics – “suggested by” the the short stories of Deborah Eisenberg), Allison Hendrix (director), Kory Danielson (music director), Kasey Alfonso (choreography), Arnel Sancianco (set design), Alexander Ridgers (lighting design), Kate Setzer-Kamphausen (costume design), Michael J. Patrick (sound design), Mealah Heidenreich (props), Shawn Rodriguez (electrician), Keegan Bradac (sound engineer), Lindsay Brown (production management), Alan Weustoff, Zach Schley (technical directors), Kait Samuels (stage manager), Alison McLeod (assistant stage manager), Phoebe Fox (assistant choreographer), Emily Boyd (paint charge), Ethan Deppe (keyboard programmer), Darren Patin (dance captain), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Jeff Meyer and Nicole Laurenzi star in Little Fish, Kokandy Productions


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Kokandy Productions, Michael John LaChiusa, Musical, Theater Wit

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