BWW Review: BIG FISH THE MUSICAL Tells a Good Story at Bellevue Little Theatre
BIG FISH, THE MUSICAL with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (THE ADDAMS FAMILY) and book by John August took the stage this week at the Bellevue Little Theatre. Based on Daniel Wallace's novel, "Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions," it is a heart warming story that balances on the fine line between what is true and what isn't.
Traveling salesman Edward Bloom (Jay Srygley) is prone to exaggerate. He tells his journalist son Will (Shane Brichacek) outrageous tales of mermaids and giants and big fish that leap out of the river into waiting arms (hence the title "BIG FISH.") As Will grows to adulthood and faces fatherhood himself, he becomes less enchanted with what he now sees as self-aggrandizing fiction from a father who was never there for his family. Will compares his father to an iceberg where only 10 percent is showing. Will's business is facts and he wants to uncover them. Will's fiancee Josephine (Meganne Horrocks Storm) encourages him to listen to his father. If he tries to understand the stories, he may understand the man who tells them.
BIG FISH opens with an older Edward skipping stones on the bank of the river. Will has just told him that he doesn't want him to give a toast at his upcoming wedding. He is afraid that Edward will go off on another wild story. And he will. Because skipping stones and telling tales are in his nature. The bigger the better.
The plot unfolds in a succession of flashbacks. Flashback to Will as a child (Daniel Davis) with his dad showing him how to do the Alabama Stomp to catch more fish. "Teach a man to fish," Edward tells him, "you feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man the Alabama Stomp, you feed his soul." Flashback to when Edward saves his hometown from the giant, Karl (Steve Ebke.) Flashback to Edward winning the love of his auburn-haired sweetheart away from his high school nemesis Don Price (Jesse Black.) Flashback to soldier Edward in an undetermined war saving the general from an assassin's poison dart attack. Flashback to a witch (Sarah Ebke) telling Edward that he will die a glorious death. But when asked what kind of glorious death, Edward tells his son that his death will be a surprise ending.
It is because he claims to know how he will die that Edward approaches life fearlessly. He often repeats, "This isn't it," when faced with danger, imaginary or real. When drugged in the later stages of cancer, he tells Will that he is no longer entirely sure what is real.
A charismatic Jay Srygley seamlessly transitions between sixty year old Edward and his younger self. He imbues the enigmatic Edward with endearing warmth. He is tender with his young son Will, and mostly patient with him as an adult. Don Quixote-like in his heroic fantasies, he eagerly wants his family to remember him as something bigger than himself. Srygley plays this layered personality so well. He is in top vocal form, with a moving solo in "How It Ends" and sweet duet with Megan Morrissey (Sandra) in "Time Stops."
Stunning in red-haired wigs and a wardrobe of blue dresses (Sandra's favorite color), Morrissey projects a vulnerability alongside a stalwart loyalty to her husband and son. Morrissey gives Sandra a quiet strength. Her character, largely a stereotypical wife and mother, is understated, but never overlooked. She stands out with her onstage presence and clear soprano.
The pragmatic Will is well played by Brichacek, whose beautiful tenor is sometimes lost without the aid of a microphone. "Stranger" is so worth hearing as Will examines his relationship with his father and his new role as a father himself.
The cast does a fine job under the direction of D Laureen Pickle with notable work by Kara Penniston as Jenny Hill, Steve Ebke as the giant Karl, Eric Micks as Amos, Megan Horrocks Storm as Josephine, Jesse Black as Don, Brandon Fisher as Zacky, and Sarah Ebke as the witch. Big numbers choreographed by Kerri Jo Watts are fun, particularly, the USO inspired "Red, White, and True" and the foot tapping Alabama Stomp. Tina Hartin-Kovy steals the limelight with some incredible gymnastic feats, including aerial cartwheels. Chris Ebke directs the orchestra which is very good, but at times overpowers the vocals and the softer spoken lines.
Leah Skorupa-Mezger's costume design is well done. The witch costume complete with long silver wig worn by Sarah Ebke, the dresses worn by the trio in "Little Lamb from Alabama" (probably my favorite number in the show), and Karl's shirt are visually interesting.
BIG FISH will not be remembered for its catchy lyrics or memorable score. It will be remembered for a lot of crazy stories wrapped up in a big fuzzy blanket of love. BIG FISH will reel you in. Don't let this one get away.
Running through September 30, tickets are available by calling 402-291-1554.
Photos courtesy of Bellevue Little Theatre.