BWW Review: Sweet BIG FISH at Taproot Lacks Power
Back in 2013 Andrew Lippa sent his latest work off to Broadway. "Big Fish", based on the movie of the same name, was sure to be a big hit. But for some reason this sweet little tuner failed to catch fire and closed in just under 4 months. Sadly with such a tepid reception no tour of the show was ever planned so the only way anyone would see this lovely show would be a regional production. Fortunately we currently have one of those for "Big Fish" at Taproot Theatre. Unfortunately, while there's plenty of talent in the show, one of the leads wasn't quite up to the task vocally and for a big, ballad laden musical that can be deadly.
For those unfamiliar with the show, or the movie, or the book, it's the story of Edward Bloom (Chris Ensweiler) a middle aged man who has lead an extraordinary life, at least that's what he tells everyone. With his constant retellings of fantastical adventures he's had it's hard to know what the truth of his life may be especially for his son Will (Tyler Todd Kimmel). But when Edward becomes ill, Will sets out to uncover the truth about the man he feels he never really knew.
The show has the basic core of the story from the movie but unlike the movie the entire storyline of the town of Spectre as well as all of the war stories are gone which I think saps some of the emotional core of the piece. But the show itself makes up for it with some beautiful and touching numbers that know how to push all the right buttons (you'll totally want to call your Dad once it's done). And the Taproot production manages to evoke much of that emotion with some beautiful voices and I must mention some wonderful costumes from Sarah Burch Gordon.
The biggest problem I had with the show and it's a fairly large problem was in one of the leads. Ensweiler, while being a very gifted actor, just didn't have the vocal power to pull off the songs. And when you're leading many of the numbers and surrounded by performers who can blow the roof off a theater then it really stands out. Now don't get me wrong. It's not like he cannot sing at all it's just that he doesn't have the range and power to pull off this role. He's got the acting chops, sure, but not the vocal chops that could have pushed this show over the top.
The rest of the ensemble brings in some gorgeous performances both vocally and emotionally. Kimmel has a gorgeous voice and played the straight man beautifully opposite the chaos of his father. Chelsea LeValley practically had the entire theater in tears as Edward's wife Sandra with her stunning ballad "I Don't Need a Roof". Sarah Russell killed as the Witch with her roof raising number showing Edward his future. And I have to mention Margaret Lamb who brought in some quite touching moments as Edward's jilted high school sweetheart.
So as touching as the show was and as talented as the rest of the cast is and as much as their lead beautifully conveyed the emotional core of the character, this is still a musical and without that power from the focal point of the show it truly left me wanting. And so with my three letter rating system I give Taproot's "Big Fish" a disappointed MEH+. Some musicals can get away with passable vocals in the leads. "Big Fish" is not one of those musicals.
"Big Fish" performs at Taproot Theatre through August 13th. For tickets or information contact the Taproot Theatre box office at 206-781-9707 or visit them online at www.taproottheatre.org.