Tuesday, June 20, 2017

“Big Fish” makes impressive splash on Lamb’s intimate stage.

In “Big Fish” The Musical, based on Daniel Wallace’s novel and the Tim Burton film now in a splendid production at Lamb’s Players Theater through July 30th, the lead character Edward Bloom (Brandon Joel Maier), a traveling salesman shares with his young son, Will (Gavin Reed August) that being on the road is not about the destination. “The road is something that’s in you-you don’t drive it, it drives you.”

“Big Fish made it to the Broadway stage in 2013 but had a very short shelf life, managing only 34 previews and 98 regular performances.  It was nominated for the Drama Desk Outer Critics nominations. Unfortunately it’s the one that got away from Broadway audiences.

The show and story has had some adjustments away from the original Broadway production with new songs added and a smaller cast version (for 12 actors), which is up and running on Lamb’s intimate stage.

Gavin Reed August and Brandon Joel Maier
Yours truly found the stage play, having seen it twice in the past two or so years, charming, insightful, rather delightful, and with a message for the ages: children will always challenge their parents and parents being parents want what they think is best for their children.

In this case Edward finds way to express his love, hopes and desires for his only son by repeating his fantastical stories that in the end will find a connecting thread. 

Edward Bloom is an ordinary guy with an extraordinary imagination. He fills his son Will’s head with stories from his heroic playbook; stories of adventure, of dreams and visions, people and places.

His tales rich in imagination are a turnoff for young and later older Will (Michael Cusimano) who would rather have had his father around for his soccer and baseball games than on the road. Later he implores his father not to make a speech at his wedding. See how that plays out.

Michael Cusimano 
When Will discovers that his father is dying of cancer and he and his wife Josephine (a supporting Catie Grady) are about to become parents themselves; and a boy at that, Will takes his own journey into the past events of his life only to discover that love lives in the heart of his father’s dream world.

It begins with a giant ‘fish story’ and takes on a life of its own; adventures shown in flashback, (“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you show a man how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”) too inconceivable to believe yet with enough tease to know that something lies beneath the surface. (“Be The Hero” and “Fight The Dragons”.)

Edward’s stories take him and his young friends deep into the woods where they meet up with a witch (Anise Ritchie) who tells Edward how and when he will die.  He comes across a Giant named Karl (Donny Gersonde) in the woods (sound familiar?) whom he befriends, a friendship that will later pay dividends.

John Rosen and Brandon Joel Maier at the circus
He finds work in the circus and becomes under the spell of the circus master Amos Calloway (John Rosen) Rosen is a standout as several characters including the town’s doctor, sheriff, circus ring master and werewolf. 

And the adventures go on. He befriends a mermaid (Mary Joe Duggan), discovers his first kiss and girlfriend, Jenny Hill (Megan Carmitchel). His tales are enough to stagger anyone’s imagination, but in Lamb’s intimate space I found myself more of a participant than an onlooker; somehow I identified with both young Will and the stories my own Dad used to tell me. (He was a clown in a circus. He loved the circus. I believed him.)

Back for a reunion of sorts, both Maier and Kelsey Ventner (Sandra Bloom) appeared together in the award winning production of “Les Miz” at Lamb’s a few years ago. (He played Jean Valjean and she Fantine)

Kelsey Venter and Brandon Joel Maier
In ‘Fish’ she is the devoted wife who, in a sense grounds the family and softens the father son/push me, pull you saga that will eventually send grown Will to live outside his birthplace in rural Ashton, Alabama (“Two Men in my Life” and “Time Stops”, “I Don’t Need a Roof”) to the big city and away from his father’s storytelling. She will also be the impetuous that bring him back home.

Maier on the other hand is in just about every scene and his beautiful voice is still as rich as ever. He’s also a good story- teller and a credible one at that. His devotion to both wife and son has a removed yet sincere feel to it.  

 The small cast is charged with playing multiple characters and makeup the ensemble. They include Charles Evan’s. JR., Jordan Miller, Siri Hafso, Anise Ritchie, Mary Joe Duggan, Jenny Hill, Jack French to name a few. 

Gavin Reid August and Brandon Joel Maier with cast.
Michael Cusimano is the perfect fit as the older Will. Both acting and musical skills show through and his performance as annoyed son, loving husband and later concerned son ring true. (“Be The Hero”, reprieve) His character really came into its own in the second act.

As young Will Gavin Reed August is a find and a future star. Enthusiasm, concentration and immersion in everything he did on opening night blew me away. He’s outstanding.

Musical director G. Scott Lacy and his seven-piece band played on even with a faulty keyboard (we later learned). That’s live theatre for you.

Yours truly was completely unaware, so the band played on with some help from Patrick Duffy’s sound design. It was all-good.

Javier Velasco’s choreography was put to good use by a talented and energetic ensemble all who sing and dance admirably. Director Deborah Gilmour Smyth leads with a sure hand that resonates heart.

Mike Buckley’s simple set is helped along by Nathan Peirson’s lighting and Michael McKeon and Patrick Duffy’s projections especially ‘The Fish’.
Anise Ritchie as The Witch
Ms. Ritchie is awesome as the witch dressed to the witches with Jeanne Reith’s eclectic costumes, a cross between whimsical and period. Susie Ferguson and Melissa Jellyman complement most of the costumes with an assortment of wigs.

“So what do you do when you’re swallowed by a fish in the middle of a river all alone? It’s yours to find out.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through July 30th
Organization: Lamb’s Players Theatre
Phone: 619.437.6000
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1142 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA. 92118
Ticket Prices: Start at $24.00
Web: lambsplayers.org
Photo: Lamb's Players Theatre



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