SYRACUSE — Big Fish, based on the novel and movie by the same name, is the story of Edward Bloom (played by Troy Hone in his older years and Keenan Fessler in his younger years), a man who was a traveling salesman that came home and told a lot of tall tales to his son Will (played by Spencer Fawcett). As is the case with a lot of shows in the area, Syracuse City started practicing for Big Fish, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, and a book by John August, in the early spring of 2020 before COID-19 shut the production down. Undoubtedly, director Tara Wilson and the cast and crew approached opening night here in 2021 with a great deal of joy and excitement.
Big Fish is a show that can work well if the creative teams remembers that the story is more about Edward’s imagination, dreams, and vision. Wilson and her crew did that well by keeping the set and design of the show visually pleasing but not too ambitious as to take away from the imaginative nature that is needed for a small-budget production. The set (designed by Wilson) was simple but aesthetically pleasing. Costumes by Ashlee Fawcett were an enjoyable part of the production, with some really fun elements during the circus numbers. Ashlee Fawcett also paid careful attention to detail and connection to storyline. Another positive aspect of the costuming was the costume of the Witch (played by Rebecca Schull).
Because Big Fish is not a well known show in Utah, the music direction by Jordan Martineau was even more important to get right. Luckily, Martineau is a skilled musician that was able to guide the cast well with the numbers so that the music was a strong element of the production. Spencer Fawcett, Fessler, and Hone all had strong voices, allowing them to shin in their solos and character-based moments. The song where the Witch shows Edward his future is a highlight with Schull’s strong and clear voice one of the best of the evening. The music combined with the choreography by Meg Clawson led to fun elements, especially in the Alabama shuffle which taught some interesting fishing techniques and in Ashton’s “Favorite Son,” where the ensemble again got to shine.
As is the case in community theatre, it is often a family affair, and in this production I have to point out the immense talent on display of the Fawcett brothers. Quinn Fawcett plays a younger Will Bloom, and I was impressed with his ability to be the “old soul” his father calls him out to be early on. Max Fawcett as Don Price, a rival of Edward, has a wonderful solo in act two that reminds the audience that Spencer is not the only star in the family. Jace Fawcett as Zacky Price has enough stage presence to fill the entire amphitheater with his character. Rounding out the Fawcett performers is Ashlee Fawcett as Josephine, showing a unique amount of chemistry and empathy for her father-in-law as her husband Will tries to connect with his dad that it was pretty easy to connect and believe this was a real story, not just events happening on a stage.
My husband once said that the difference between community theatre and professional theatre is not the quality of the talent, but the quality of the sound system. Unfortunately, that was certainly the case in Big Fish. It is not the fault of the Syracuse Arts Council per se, but the issues of the sound system were difficult and frustrating for the audience and cast and crew alike. Microphone feedback, sound issues, and speaker issues plagued this opening night, as is commonplace for any production with a limited budget and sound system. I hope Syracuse invests in better equipment if they want people to attend their productions in the future.
Ultimately, in spite of some of the technical difficulties, Big Fish was a wonderful production with a lot of heart in it. It is evident that the cast and crew spent a lot of time and energy and were thrilled to finally bring this show to the stage after over a year of work. I commend the Syracuse Arts Council for their willingness to consider shows that differ from typical arts council offerings and helping the community branch out in their musical knowledge and repertoire.