BWW REVIEW: The Wonderfully Whimsical And Entirely Engaging BIG FISH Is Captivating Hearts At Hayes Theatre ***UPDATED - Phillip Lowe Returns To Full Voice***
Friday 21st April 2017, 7:30pm, Hayes Theatre Potts Point
The heart wrenchingly beautiful story of a father trying to connect to his son through stories comes to life with simplicity and sensitivity in a sublime production of BIG FISH. Tyran Parke (Director) delivers an intimate but none the less impressive, inventive interpretation of the '12 Chairs' version of Andrew Lippa (Music and Lyrics) and John August's (Book) musical about Edward Bloom's fantastic stories is based on John August's 2003 screenplay of the same name which was in turn based on Daniel Wallace's 1998 novel Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions.
The nostalgic work that tugs on the heartstrings follows the relationship between the serious and sensible Will Bloom (Adam Rennie) who only wants to live in the 'real world', and his father Edward Bloom (Phillip Lowe), who is prone to embellishment of what seem to be incredibly imaginative and highly implausible stories of his life. The story starts with Will warning his father not to embarrass him at his upcoming nuptials and his father's hidden hurt that his son doesn't believe his tales are true and has forgotten why he used to tell the stories. The work is told in a series of flashbacks to the seemingly far-fetched memories that Edward used to entertain the young Will. Whilst once relishing in his father's stories, Will has grown to believe that the tales were a cover up, designed to make his father look good whilst hiding a darker truth, causing a rift between the two. The quest for answers that his ailing father can't give him leads Will on his own journey of understanding as he seeks to find on truth to pass on to the next Bloom generation which is on the way.
Parke has teamed up with production designers Anna Gardiner and Martelle Hunt to create a seemingly simple space, filled with little surprises, for Edward's stories to unfold. Whilst they have refrained from an attempt to replicate the big budget Broadway production, Gardiner and Hunt have been delightfully inventive with hints to the implausibility being implied with imagery that seems lifted out of a child's imagination, similar to what the young Will would have conjured up based on his father's stories. This pared back simplicity allows the audience to also imagine, rather than having everything handed to them, thereby sharing in the wonder of Edward's stories. Gardiner and Hunt track the passage of time with the costumes, seeing a young Edward and the Price brothers grow from t-shirts and shorts exploring the witches' swamp to high school letterman jackets and later grown up suits whilst the women in Edward's life, Sandra (Katrina Retallick) and Jenny (Kirby Burgess) grow from bobby socks and 1950's full skirts to contemporary clothes. The characters from Edward's stories are given a dramatic flair, reinforcing the embellishment the devoted father added to the fairytale like stories that seemed like they were lifted out of myths and legends.
The use of mobile set pieces allows for smooth transitions and the pace to be maintained, all aided by Luke Byrne's orchestra presented unseen behind the stage, with the sound balance well designed by Neil Mclean. In addition to Lippa's vibrant score, Cameron Mitchell has given the work a traditional Broadway musical feel blended with southern style country line dancing and delightful circus acts.
For opening night, Phillip Lowe was unfortunately unwell, still recovering from a virus that had left him without a voice in the days prior but thankfully he had recovered enough to deliver Edward's dialogue and in true 'show must go on' fashion, Director Tyran Parke stepped in to provide the vocals from side stage. This allowed the audience to experience Lowe's heart wrenchingly beautiful portrayal of the loving father and husband that tried desperately to keep a stoic façade whilst it was quietly destroying him that his son didn't believe him. Parke's vocals captured the joy, passion, love and sadness wonderfully and the combination of Lowe's expression and Parke's interpretation came together as a united performance with the two wonderfully in tune with each other, amplifying the emotion. They joined to deliver an expression that was honest and pure, conveying that they were connected to the meaning and purpose of every word in Lippa's music which also comes across in Lowe's physicality, giving himself, body and soul to capturing Edward's energy and passion.
As Will Bloom, Adam Rennie was wonderful as the son that finds himself needing to mend his relationship with his father. Rennie's vocals capture the rollercoaster of emotions Will experiences. His interpretation of Stranger captures Will's joy and hope for his own son whilst conveying a regret and resentment towards his father as he believes that he hasn't been honest with him and that he doesn't really know Edward. It is filled with passion and pain with a bold pure strength and texture, highlighting the conflicted feelings.
Katrina Retallick presents a balance and link between the two men in Sandra Bloom's life, her husband Edward and her son Will. She conveys that Sandra is more level headed than her husband but still has the wonder and whimsy that allows her to believe his stories are true. Retallick expresses a range of emotion from the bright comical Little Lamb From Alabama to the poignant I Don't Need A Roof.
As Edward's school sweetheart Jenny Hill, Kirby Burgess presents the wide eyed innocence of the little town country girl and the heartbroken woman that has never gotten over her first love. Burgess also covers a number of other background characters which allows the audience to be treated to her versatility and her cheeky comic expressions that make her a delight to watch.
The role of young Will is shared by Sam Wood and Brendan Goodwin, with Wood performing on opening night. Wood presents young Will's reluctance to believe his father and his gradual acceptance of the stories, becoming captivated and caught up in the joy and the wonder of them.
Alessandra Merlo presents Josephine, Will's bride, with a similar balance to her husband as Sandra provides to Edward. She expresses Josephine's love and hope whilst having a belief and understanding of Edward's stories and reasons for telling them which her husband still can't see.
The ensemble present equally wonderful performances. Brenden Lovett doubles as Circus owner Amos Calloway and Dr Bennet whilst Aaron Tsindos and Joel Granger present brothers Don Price and Zacky Price. Seth Drury presents the European hermit Karl the Giant and Brittanie Shipway gives The Witch a gypsy mysticism while Zoe Ioannou gives The Girl In The Water a playful mystery and Zachary Webster captures the FrustratEd Fisherman's joy at learning how to get the fish moving.
This production of BIG FISH is filled with passion and heart, presented with a purity and understanding of the emotions each character experiences. This is an uplifting and heartbreaking story with a wonderful message of inspiration and encouragement and the importance of being the hero of your own story. With its central theme of family, forgiveness, trust and belief, this will be relatable for anyone whether you are a parent wanting the best for your children, or have parents that you don't always understand, you are raising a new generation, or you've lost an older generation. Do not miss this show, it is a definite must see. BroadwayWorld hopes Phillip Lowe recovers quickly, but in the meantime, he and Tyran Parke share the creation of Edward Bloom beautifully, to the point it is potentially worth trying to see if you can attend both versions of the performance.
Phillip Lowe returned to full voice for the performance on 25th April and BWWSydney had the pleasure of viewing the show again. It was wonderful to hear Lowe take on the full character of Edward Bloom as Lowe, like Parke filling in on Opening night, infuses the vocals with a beautiful sensitivity, capturing the emotion from joy, passion, love and wonder to heartbreaking disappointment and sadness. His performance expresses a deep understanding of the character, his feelings and his motivations. For Edward's final story, How It Ends, Lowe drops into sprechstimme, making the piece even more poignant and heart wrenching that only the stoniest of hearts could not be moved. Do not miss this beautiful production.
Hayes Theatre, Potts Point
18 April - 14 May 2018
**Given that Daffodils feature in Edward and Sandra Bloom's love story, producers RPG Productions is also supporting the Cancer Council of NSW, with merchandise available in the theatre foyer throughout the season. www.cancercouncil.com.au