The Big Show: What's behind the final curtain?

On a game show seemingly drawn from the mists of time (or at least from the 1970s), a man is about to die.

No, The Big Show isn't about some trite "to the death" competition. This is a more personal end game. Host Jackie Cartwright is facing his final night before his own cancellation, and he's about to relive 30 years of highs and lows on his way behind the mysterious final curtain.

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Theatre Forever's latest work brings plenty of talent to the table for a show that doesn't quite come together completely. There are plenty of enjoyable and even insightful moments, but it never captured me the way past Theatre Forever works did.

The show brings the talents of company founder Jon Ferguson, playwright Dominic Orlando, and performer Brant Miller to the table. Miller plays Jackie, the overworked and overweight host of the Big Show. He's ruled that roost for three decades, leading contestants through goofy challenges and offering them all sorts of fabulous prizes.

While it starts out like an episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look's "Numberwang," it turns into something much more like the finale of All That Jazz, as the elements of the game show mutate into moments from Jackie's not-too-glorious life.

Some of this is gloriously mad, such as an early game where the two contestants need to pick up as many ping-pong-like balls as possible, without the "Groby" (a man in a stripped shirt wearing an alligator head; analyze that Herr Freud) taking "all their balls."

As the game show turns more and more surreal, we get greater insight into Jackie's life, still brought to us via the game show. There could be answers from his son in one game, or the option to exchange a fabulous cash prize for the contents of a crusty box with great significance to the host's life.

The show has a fluid vibe throughout, as we transition to different parts of Jackie's life. This gives the company, who also collaborated on the work, plenty of chances to explore the stage and setting. The focus, however, comes down to Miller, who slowly reveals his character's fears and regrets on his journey to the final curtain.

All of this is fine, but as I noted before, there is something missing here. Past works by the company dove right into the madcap, but also often found a unity in purpose that is missing here. I felt oddly unsatisfied leaving the theater, even though I had enjoyed large stretches the work. So, instead of winning the grand prize of an all-expenses trip, The Big Show gets a beautiful lounge suite and a copy of the home game.


The Big Show
Through March 22
The Southern Theatre

1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis

For tickets and more information, call 612.340.1725 or visit online.