BWW Review: BIG FISH is Larger Than Life at The Keegan Theatre
BIG FISH fills every inch of the intimate Keegan Theatre and leaves more than a little magic in its wake. Based on the 1998 David Wallace novel and the 2003 Tim Burton film, BIG FISH revolves around traveling salesman Edward Bloom and the big stories he tells to his realist son Will. When Will finds out he's going to be father and must, at the same time, confront his father's mortality, he sets out to separate fact from fiction and find the man inside the myth.
BIG FISH resonates with big themes, bordering on "universal": the power of the father and son relationship, how and why we raise children, and what constitutes a BIG life? The story is patently touching, and under the direction of Mark A. Rhea and Colin Smith the tale is well told. The magic unfolds in a pleasantly minimalist space, courtesy of scenic designer Matthew Keenan. If the audience on the night of August 8th is any indication you will laugh, cry, cheer, and leave in high spirits. This is a wholesome, feel good musical you can really escape into.
BIG FISH operates on two timelines as young Will (Erik Peyton) and Edward Bloom (Dan Van Why) fall into Bloom's epic stories and adult Will (Ricky Drummond) and a declining Edward Bloom try to navigate the expanding gulf between them while wrestling with Edward's terminal diagnosis. To quote an exclamation at intermission, "Dan Van Why is exceedingly watchable." And thank goodness for that: the entire show rests on his shoulders. The magnetic Edward Bloom is charm and charisma personified, and Van Why has those in spades. Not to mention an excellent set of pipes. Eleanor Todd as Bloom's devoted wife Sandra is a powerhouse. Her "I Don't Need a Roof" was a quiet, heartfelt moment amidst all the magic and mayhem. She didn't miss an opportunity to tug on our emotional heartstrings with nothing but a pool of light on her expressive face.
The ensemble brings Bloom's stories to life with infectious joy, and there isn't a weak link among them. Katie McManus brings down the house with one song as The Witch, Eitan Mazia in his Keegan debut is hilarious as Bloom's high school nemesis Don Price, and Grant Saunders is unforgettable as Karl the giant. Keegan is a small theatre, and Patrick Lord's use of projection is some of the best use of multimedia I've seen in a theatrical production. Allan Weeks' magical lighting design helps maintain the fantastic illusion that is BIG FISH, while conductor/Pianist Jake Null and his musicians are the definition of professional.
Any failings are largely the fault of heavy handed writing and no fault of this spot on cast and creative team. The cringeworthy song "The River Between Us" explicates the growing divide between father and son to an almost comical level. Though there was not a dry eye in the house (mine included) as Edward Bloom (Dan Van Why) belts through "How It Ends" even through my weepy, cathartic haze I registered a missed opportunity. This show could have been so much more, so much bigger, if Andrew Lippa (music and lyrics) had put more trust in the audience to get it. Van Why and the rest of the cast, though occasionally weighed down by the book and libretto, manage to transcend at every turn and tap into truth and connection.
So what does it mean to live a big life, or even a meaningful life? Who will tell our stories when we're gone? The cast and creative team at Keegan Theatre tackle these questions with humor, and love above all else. At the start of Act II, our resident Odysseus Edward Bloom watches his young son engage with one of his stories as he implores him to "Fight the Dragons." While his son is occupied he adds quietly, "I'll fight the dragons till you can." It's a small aside, but the implications are larger than life.
BIG FISH is running at Keegan Theatre from August 5 now extended through September 9th. For tickets head to keegantheatre.com.
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.
Pictured (left to right): Eleanor Todd and Dan Van Why. Photos by Cameron Whitman.