LEHI — This year, the Lehi Arts Council’s sole theatre production will be Big Fish. The production was cast in January and was almost ready to open in March. But, everyone knows what happened in March. Months later, the production started rehearsing again, and it finally opened on October 17–over six months after the originally planned opening night. I am glad that the arts council stuck to the show because watching Big Fish is a rewarding experience.
Big Fish tells the story of Edward Bloom and his son, Will, who are experiencing tension as Will marries his fiancée Josephine. Edward often tells exaggerated stories about his life, always with himself as the hero. While this was endearing when Will was a child, he now finds it embarrassing and foolish. When Will learns that his father has a terminal illness, he decides to learn the truth of his father’s life so that he can pass it onto the son that Josephine is due to give birth to.
The strongest performer in the cast is Christie Gardiner as Sandra Bloom, the matriarch of the Bloom family. In every scene, Gardiner makes Sandra the glue holding the Bloom family together. Sandra’s devotion to her husband shines through in big moments (like Gardiner’s tender rendition of “I Don’t Need a Roof”) and small (such as the way she tightly clutched Edward’s hand as they learned that his tumor had grown). Likewise, the efforts to build bridges between father and son were believable and made Sandra a sympathetic character.
David Peterson played the leading role of Edward Bloom, and watching him sing “How It Ends” with conviction is one of the best moments of the play. I think it may be one of the most difficult roles in musical theatre. That being said, Peterson struggled with the acting demands of the role. The audience sees Edward in almost every stage life from his teenager to the end. Peterson struggled to play all these different ages, but almost any amateur actor would (as would many professionals), so I do not blame him for this. What I fault him for, though, is the low level of enthusiasm when telling the stories that fill much of the first act. I was also unsure whether Edward actually believes the stories he tells.
The rest of the actors are noticeably stronger than the typical arts council cast. Bronson Dameron is convincing in when he tries to pull the truth out of his dreamy father, and “Stragner” is an emotional touching moment in the first act. Allison Books‘s performance as the witch is memorable because of her vocal power and unbounded confidence in the role jumpstarted the first act. The ensemble is one of the most intriguing I have seen in years; most played multiple characters, and I admire their ability to build distinguish their characters via body language and mannerisms.
Director Kurt Elison has created a touching family drama, and I appreciated most the way he built emotional connections among characters, especially the Bloom family. The tension of “The River Between Us” or the tenderness of “Magic in the Man” require a director who is in tune with the characters’ psychology, and Elison excelled in bringing those feelings to the forefront. Additionally, Elison has a streamlined, clean directing style. Scenes are uncluttered, and absorbing all the information in a scene is effortless.
John August‘s script tells the story of Edward’s life in a non-linear fashion through flashbacks and reenactments of Will’s tales. It’s a strong script that deserves a better score than Andrew Lippa‘s words and lyrics. The songs move the plot along nicely, and some of them (such as “Magic in the Man” and “The River Between Us”) even pack an emotional punch. But none add enough charm, cleverness, or zest to to elevate a scene to create the type of moments that can only happen in musical theatre.
Likewise, Jeanna Cunningham‘s choreography was timid in songs like “Be the Hero” and “Calloway Circus,” though the cast executed it well. It seemed that she was holding the dancing back because of the small size of the stage. A compensating virtue of the production was Jean Hatch‘s costumes. The fashionable wedding party, the shimmering but earthy dresses for the witches, and other costumes brought visual variety that made me look forward to every change in location or time.
The cast and crew of Big Fish waited a long time to present this show to an audience. Their patience paid off, and the show is a pleasant evening that showcases their talents. Yes, the show is six months late, but the cliché “better late than never” definitely applies to this lovely production.