There often isn’t the emotional or pragmatic space anymore to dedicate the time to storytellers and fantastically capricious tales. Deeply nostalgic in nature, plays and films and books that illuminate and glorify the fantabulous storytellers, the people who weave yarns with the elaborate and hyperbolic precision that in some ways now seems misplaced or sentimentally feckless in a world where catastrophes seem to happen with alarming alacrity. The musical adaptation of Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel Big Fish (also very famously adapted by Tim Burton with the 2003 sprawling cult-classic film of the same title) takes the whimsicality of storytelling to its extreme—not only is its narrative entirely devoted to hyperbolic, fanciful stories, but it is also a musical, famously the most flamboyantly and delightfully illogical of genres. The Theatre Factory’s production of Big Fish dares to delve into the beautiful tapestry of stories and family dynamics with a refreshingly loyal take on the original material.
The nonsensicality and grandiloquent flair of Big Fish masks a brutally heart-wrenching, if not simple, plot when stripped down. A young man embarking on matrimony and fatherhood, somewhat begrudgingly, and with an air of distrust, re-engages in a relationship with his father as his father’s death rapidly approaches. Most of this process of reconnection and understanding revolves around the untangling of the wildly intricate mythos the father has presented to his son about his origin story—from over-embellished schoolyard brawls; to run-ins with witches; to travels with a quick-witted, agoraphobic giant named Carl.
The Theatre Factory’s recent production of Big Fish, directed and designed with flourish-filled adroitness by Scott Calhoon, is truly a visually dazzling and earnestly heartfelt revival of the Wallace’s story about stories that emphasize the spectacular richness that can exist in the simplest of things. Given the scale of the theatre, the production quality and presentation are especially impressive, with the audience being immediately engulfed in the sea of marvelous, larger-than-life props and electrifying choreography that ushers in the mythical, dreamlike quality of the show. Spot-on choreography and musical production are captivating champions of the Theatre Factory’s Big Fish, as they carry the show through some of the hokier and slower moments, and Musical Director Michael Rozzell (as well as the tremendous musicians working with him) and Choreographer Laura Wurzell deserve special praise for the seamless presentation of the show.
A musical that is so dependent on leaping from one yarn to another (especially ones which are shown as interpretations through a son’s eyes) requires certain brands of performances that relentlessly articulates both wonder, profound ruefulness, and impassioned befuddlement, which match the wonder imbued in such a narrative. The performances of the entire cast meet these standards, even if at times there is a tendency towards over-exaggerated camp and excessive slapstick to illicit laughs. Rob Jessup delivers one of the more charming and lovely performances as he takes on the role of the father, Edward Bloom, at every stage of his life. Jessup manages to consistently engage in a role that I would otherwise find aggravatingly plucky and overwhelmingly and archetypally male. Missy Newell, evidently stepping in after a last-minute cast adjustment, was outstandingly enchanting, and all the more awe-inspiring for the whirlwind nature of her integration into the cast.
Putting on a musical that is utterly ensconced in stories in some ways seems brazen—as the world around us seems increasingly dire and bleak, with people losing the ability to tell their own stories properly more and more every day, fantastical tall tales and father-son arcs can come across as out-of-place. However, the Theatre Factory’s Big Fish provides more blissful distraction than tone-deaf theatre piece. Big Fish is stuffed to the gills, to be wildly trite, with unencumbered enjoyment and moving sentiment that entertains a bevy of audience-goers.
Big Fish runs at the Theatre Factory through July 22. For tickets and more information click here.
Categories: Archived Reviews