BWW Reviews: Daly Plays Heroic Edward Bloom in Brilliant BIG FISH at First Stage

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"Be the hero in your story and the world will be yours...." Edward Bloom consistently uses these words to inspire his son Will while he was growing up. Defining what a hero is, for Edward and his son Will, plays an epic role in First Stage's Big Fish. This shortened World Premiere for Young Audiences production retells the 2013 Broadway musical adapted from a 1990's Daniel Wallace novel with stunning results. Milwaukee's legendary Jonathan Gillard Daly becomes a theatrical hero when he transforms into Edward Bloom, husband, father and master storyteller based upon the musical's book and film written by John August.

Daly's remarkable Edward Bloom performs the character at various ages in Bloom's life while dancing and singing to more than a dozen melodies composed by Andrew Lippa. Almost every moment of the 80 minute, one intermission production, Daly centers the stage, surrounded by an astounding supporting cast directed and choreographed by Jeff Whiting, a Broadway veteran.

Edward's embellished stories (almost 36 not including the multiple variations Will recounts for his wife Josephine) dive in-between reality like the Mermaid Edward meets in the river throughout the Big Fish production: How he befriended the giant Karl (the very imposing John Glowacki) or when he met the swamp witch who foretold Edward how his life would end or his first encounter with Sandra (an enchanting Niffer Clarke) at the circus. The skeptical Will, a returning First Stage Theater Academy alum, Nate Lewellyn, prods his father to tell him the truth about this fantastical life, what are the actual facts to these fanciful stories?

Fortunately for the audience, they can watch Edward's tales unfold live on the Todd Wehr stage in Broadway style. Kärin Kospischke's utterly lush costumes--whether Rána Roman's eerie and seductive swamp witch--the circus characters or Clarke's affectionate Sandra, combined with Whiting's big ensemble choreography and Jason Fassl's exceptional lighting breathe magic nto every scene. Played out on Brandon Kirkham's stage design, the production easily moves from a humble arrangement of wooden piers into past and present scenes within a twinkling of an eye. Warm theatrical mayhem becomes larger than life, especially at the close of the second act when Edward proposes to Sandra with a bouquet of daffodils. Over a few minutes, the entire stage literally blooms into a bright, golden landscape while Edward sings to Sandra, "Daffodils."

Throughout the production a fabulous young performer ensemble creates the Big Fish Broadway magic in musical numbers Whiting choreographed for grand visual fun. The purposeful humor in Edward's tall tales lightens the concern for his deteriorating health condition. This includes two young performer casts, the Bloom on this Saturday night, where Mason Sammarco plays Will as a young boy, and Thomas Kindler of former To Kill A Mockingbird fame at Milwaukee Rep has grown into a very commanding Don Price. J.T. Backes, Bree Beelow, Susie Duecker, Paul Helm and Zach Thomas Woods round out the adult cast playing multiple roles with Broadway panache.

While Edward and Will attempt to close the emotional river separating them with the help of Will's wife, Josephine, (Roman acting in a dual role), Will discovers surprising facts about this father. Half facts embellished with fiction, the tales Edward told created heroes in the people he met along his road. Most people will remember a generosity or kindness from someone rather that who won an Academy Award or Super Bowl, which makes heroes out of ordinary souls and adventures from everyday events..

Daly gives the audience a charming, confident Edward unapologetic for the stories he tells. In doing so, Will learns to understand his father, a father dedicated to his life, his son, his stories and his wife. Capture Edward's irresistible First Stage escapades in this brilliant production where father and son eventually reconcile through the stories they become. Where love made Edward larger than he might have been alone, a stylish Big Fish tale where everyone can be inspired to "be the hero" in the extraordinary personal stories they live to tell. Stories someone will surely remember and pass on.

First Stage presents Big Fish directed and choreographed by Jeff Whiting in the Todd Wehr Theatre at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through May 31. For further information onthe performance, the 2015-2016 season subscription, or to purchase tickets, please call 414.273.7206 or

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan