Review: BIG FISH at Cain Park-Alma Theatre

BIG FISH @ Cain Park--good staging of well-meaning, but shallow script

By: Jun. 24, 2024
Review: BIG FISH at Cain Park-Alma Theatre
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“I've seen this all before
When I was just a child
I met a witch who took a bow and showed me how it ended”

These words, from the song, “How It Ends,” near the conclusion of BIG FISH, the Andrew Lippa/John August musical now on stage at Cain Park, summarizes a major plot message. 

The tale, based on Daniel Wallace’s novel “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions,” is part of the trend of Broadway musicals taking on serious subjects.  DEAR EVAN HANSEN, which deals with teen angst, autism and suicide, and NEXT TO NORMAL which takes on how mental illness effects not only the victim, but the entire family, are examples of this new vision for American musicals.

In 2013, BIG FISH, after 34 previews ran only 98 regular performances, due to tepid reviews and weak audience excitement. 

Comments about the show included, “BIG FISH arrives on Broadway as an earnest, family-friendly, heart-warming and mostly successful new American musical.”  “It is sweet and inoffensive which plops its unabashed wholesomeness right in your lap.”  It is a pleasant, slightly bland musical, more like THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, than blockbusters like HAMILTON. 

BIG FISH revolves around the relationship between Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman, and his son Will.

At the start of the tale, Edward and his son, discuss Will's impending wedding. Edward tells him a story about when he was walking down the river and met a man trying to catch fish to no avail. So, Edward teaches him the proper way to catch fish. Edward tells Will another story of a witch that Edward met as a teenager. 

Edward is a storyteller.  His son never knows if the tales his father weaves, encountering a Witch, a Giant, a Mermaid are real or part of the man’s imagination.  

The tales go on and on until, near the conclusion, we finally learn Edward’s truth and the moral of BIG FISH in the song, “Be the Hero.”

The Cain Park production, which is well- staged and interpreted by director Johanna May Cullinan, does everything it can with what some might deem as a sappy tale. 

Connor Stout makes for a believable Edward Bloom.  He creates a dreamer and nice guy who, until the end, we aren’t sure whether his tales are real or figments of his imagination.  He has a fine singing voice.  His duet, “Time Stops,” sung with Sandra (Kate Fahey), his wife, is lovely.  “The River Between Us,” sung with Will (Ryan Sweeney) vividly shows the chasm between father and son.

Baldwin Wallace musical theatre program has produced a number of handsome young men with fine singing voices and good acting chops who have gone on to make their marks in professional theater.  Included are Chris McCarrell (LES MISÈRABLES, THE LIGHTNING THIEF, Colton Ryan (NEW YORK, NEW YORK, GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY, THE PUBLIC, DEAR EVAN HANSEN) and Corey Mach (KINKY BOOTS, HANDS ON A HARD BODYGODSPELL, WICKED, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG).  Ryan Sweeney (Will) is of the same mold! 

Kate Fahey (Sandra, Edward’s wife) sings and interprets the poignant “I Don’t Need a Roof,” well.

Monica Olejko’s choreography is effective, as is Ken Lear’s musical direction, Richard Morris’s set design and Adam Ditzel’s lighting.

Capsule judgment:  The songs are well interpreted, the story made clear, the performances quite good.  There is nice storytelling, music and moral. If there is a flaw, it is the writing, not the production.  There are little real highlights, little encompassing action. 

BIG FISH runs through June 30, 2024 at Cain Park’s Alma Theatre.  For tickets call 216-371-3000 or go to


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