Review of Big Fish
Book by John August
Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the Columbia Motion Picture by John August
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Lucas Sherman
Choreography by Michella Snider
For tickets / schedule :
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company
RUN: August 12-28, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars
(August 12, 2016)
Big Fish is a spectacle of glittering adventure mingled with genuine human conflict of a father and son struggling to build their relationship. In a study of extremes, the father exists in a fantasy world of romance and magical creatures, but lacks substance and leaves his wife and son to fend for themselves. His son, Will, reacts by retreating into pure facts, rejecting imagination for strict practicality, losing the beauty of life in his self constructed prison. Through exploration and loss, the two perspectives are brought together in a bittersweet denouement. Big Fish captures common experiences, such as the acute embarrassment only parents can inflict on their children, while wild fairy tales of giants and mermaids inhabit the same world. Like The Princess Bride, it defies categorization, carving its own genre of storytelling.
Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen’s set designs recreate a simple green strewn park, relying on Spreckels’ projection system to supply ever-shifting visuals. The orchestra pit rim becomes a river bank, the emotional focus of Big Fish. Pamela Enz outdoes herself with a wide range of costumes, using specific color palettes to set the scene, from the pastel and black old West to a sparkling 1940s USO show in vivid red, white, and blue. Collaborating beautifully with Michella Snider’s choreography in the witches, capes are turned into whirling pieces of art, swirling mystical energy through Jessica Johnson’s layers of sound design in the eerie swamps of Alabama.
Tracing through the real world and outlandish tales is the love story between Edward Bloom (Darryl Edward Strohl-De Herrera) and Sandra (Heather Buck) whose devotion to each other is hopeful and tragic. Although it suffers from archaic notions of a woman’s place in society, which distract from its romantic power, their story is set in an earlier time when women were not considered equal partners—insisting they take care of the kitchen and household chores without assistance. Despite these problems, it is clear the two adore each other, leading to a deeply moving song by Sandra, I Don’t Need a Roof, pleading with her dying husband not to leave her. Darryl Edward Strohl-De Herrera is compelling as a flawed hero, easily switching between the capering Don Quixote of his wild stories to a father who cannot understand his son’s anger, and is slowly beaten down by his fading life.
Assisted by a strong supporting cast, such as Nathaniel Mercier as Don Price, the High School nemesis, Bobby Finney as Karl, and Jordan Martin as Young Will, the production works well as a unit. Gene Abravaya’s direction reconciles the fantastical and mundane in a cohesive story, creating smooth transitions between scenes, such as using a measured circling between Will and Young Will as they change places.
Big Fish is a visual feast of circuses, fairy tales, and true love that does not avoid the harsh realities of broken families and struggling relationships. Follow the Blooms through fields of daffodils and rivers of regret, discovering what it is to be a storyteller in a suffering world.