CENTERVILLE — Big Fish, the big story about Edward Bloom, is based on a novel by Daniel Wallace and a film written by John August and directed by Tim Burton. Adapted for the stage with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book by August, it first graced the stage in Chicago, where I was lucky enough to see it in 2013. At the time, I was questioning all of my life choices and grateful to see a larger than life story of a man who chose to let even a small existence be meaningful. Even though Big Fish later had a short Broadway run, I am happy to see this show get its due in the community here in Utah.
Directed at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre by Jim Christian, the first thing one may notice when coming into the Barlow main stage is the feeling of being surrounded by water, apropos for the subject matter. Much of the set, lighting, and technical design throughout the evening matched that initial impression. Set designer Brad Shelton had created really strong elements that combined well with projections designed Joshua Roberts. It can be difficult to know where the set ends and where the projections begin when both are designed well, as they are in this production. At one point in the show, the lighting design by Jordan Fowler was incorporated to make the audience feel as if they were part of a flood. That immersion of set, projection, and lights was a technical masterpiece. And while I found the premise of the song “Daffodils” a little cheesy, I was very impressed with the set design choice and how it added to the whole look of the show.
The resident costume designer at CenterPoint, Tammis Boam, had many elements that wowed, including the outfits for the ensemble of witch dancers in the swamp during the song “I Know What You Want.” But I found myself underwhelmed with some of the other choices of costume. The circus designs, any time there was a big dance number, and certainly any flashy moment had costumes to match the flair, but the main costumes that the principal characters wore throughout the play did not seem to match the rest of the show.
David Simon as Edward and Holden Smith as Will Bloom played the complicated father-son relationship realistically. Their stark personality differences in characterization were well matched and resulted in interesting interpersonal conflicts. Kacee Neff as Sandra Bloom worked as the perfect bridge to the two characters, and her song “Two Men in My Life” felt like an accurate representation of the balance the show was achieving.
One surprising frustration of the evening was sound difficulties, ranging from microphone feedback to speaker outages and music cutting in and out. This is not something that has been common when attending productions at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, and I found myself distracted by and uneasy with the malfunctions. It took away from the show at important moments and was not in keeping with the level of tech I am used to at the venue.
The sound glitches were also made me wish for live musicians at CenterPoint and other similar venues. While I know that this can be a difficult goal for non-Equity theatre companies, I know that Utah has the talent pool of musicians and that more companies could have live orchestras. Live music makes the sound and performance builds a deeper connection with the audience and makes a performance much more immersive. And given how immersive the set, lighting and projections of Big Fish were, a fully immersive experience would only make Big Fish more special.
Without giving too much away, I want to commend the direction of Jim Christian specifically for Act II, Scene 6 of this production, which had me openly weeping. Not only as a critic, but as a person who has worked for decades in the mental health field, I was touched. The way this particular part of the story between the father and son was handled, with the reverence for the meaning of life and what matters in life, was so evident. The movement of the whole cast during the song “What’s Next,” combined reality and fantasy in a truly beautiful montage. It made me want to be the hero of my story and hope that I can help the people in my life even better than they are. A moment on stage like that makes Big Fish a success.