WEST VALLEY CITY — Big Fish is an adventurous story full of every element a good writer could hope to include. Written by John August, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, the musical tells of love and heartbreak, triumph and failure, life and death. While it seems remarkable and outlandish that one story could contain so many pieces, outlandish tales seem to be the common theme in this show. Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley puts on a tremendous production that is fun for the whole family. The production staff and crew for this show have brought to life the story behind the words and music of Big Fish.
Edward Bloom is a man who has never told a regular story in his whole life, and Big Fish is the tale of Edward’s son, Will, trying to reconcile what is true about his father and what is not. The exciting part for the audience is that while Will has to decipher all the stories, it means that the audience gets to see all of them come to life.
Played by Douglas W. Irey, Edward is a man who has lived his life in an extraordinary way, and tells his story with more flair than truth. Irey brings to the stage a take on the character of Edward that is bubbly and entertaining. Edward is a storyteller above all else, and that was what Irey portrayed. His jokes were well timed and sounded comical, no matter how “punny” or corny the material may have been. One of the significant parts of Bloom’s character is that he seems to know how he is going to die, and every time he is asked about it, his response is the same. “Surprise ending. Wouldn’t want to ruin it for you.” The notable part of this element of Irey’s performance was how different the same line was every time he said it. Irey’s musical numbers were all fun to watch and were well performed, with “Fight the Dragons” standing out as an entertaining miniature story of its own and “Time Stops” telling of love at first sight. As this is a story of friendships, one of the most important factors in a good performance is the relationships built between characters, and all of Irey’s relationships were developed and fulfilled, likely thanks to the careful direction of John Sweeney.
The only relationship in this show that was strained was between Edward and Will. Played by Jacob Theo Squire, Will brought an attitude to the role that was real and relateable. Will’s goal of understanding his father really was the driving factor behind all his actions, but also stemmed from his own desire to one day be a good father himself. The indulgence of an old man’s tales, giving way to irritation at never truly knowing what is real and what is falsehood was apparent in several scenes. As Squire’s character developed, the emotional range changed, but always included the personality first seen on stage. During his solo “Stranger,” the emotions tapped into were touching, while keeping a good handle on the complicated vocal play in the music. Especially touching were the realization of why his father has always told these stories and his very real embrace that being like his father sometimes wouldn’t be a bad thing.
The supporting characters in this show are a large part of the stories within the main story, and this cast did a very nice job supporting the main adventure while simultaneously weaving individual tales. Karl the Giant, played by DRU was fun as DRU put a good twist on the typical giant character. He played to the audience tastefully. Both Josephine and Sandra Bloom (played by Becca Lichfield and Amanda Crabb, respectively) were strong supporting characters and brought a loving motherly touch to this tale of father and son. The gentle nudges and loving hints from wife to husband and mother to son were seen in both of these women’s roles. Lichfield was touching and lovely in “Just Take Another Look,” and Crabb was delightful when portraying the true and deep love she felt for her husband, especially during “I Don’t Need a Roof.”
The choreography for this production was by Jennifer Hill Barlow, and the cast nicely performed it, though at some moments, including the reprise of “Start Over,” there were decisions made in choreography that seemed out of place, as if there was a need for a filler and something foreign to the feel of the song made its way in. Notably there were several great moments in the larger production numbers like the “Alabama Stomp” and during “Closer to Her” that flowed very well and did not distract from the story, but seemed to enhance it.
The technical elements in this show were elaborate and detailed in all of their facets. The flowing river was utilized in an impressive fashion in almost every scene, and the sounds and smells in the theatre alone were enough to dazzle. The lights and moving set pieces adding into the equation completed the scenes fully. From the beeps and chatter of a hospital room to the smell of a river bank while the water rushed, there was no need to doubt, but unfortunately there also seemed to be no reason to use my imagination. Set designer and technical director Kacey Udy, lighting designers Adam Flitton and Michael Gray, and sound designer Shane Steel filled the theatre as well as they could with the settings for this adventure, and did it with enthusiasm.
The tale of a Big Fish in a little pond is a fun and adventurous tale for the whole family. With the show playing through the end of November, the Hale Centre Theatre has given Utah theatre audiences a wonderful chance to experience the beautiful art of storytelling with this new musical.