Big Fish is a production of the Pre-Professional Program at the Act Two @ Levine, derived and adapted from the Broadway production with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book by John August. Kevin Kuchar directs a dream-team of young singers, dancers, and actors.
Big Fish revolves around the relationship between Edward Bloom (Liam Allen), a travelling salesman and his son, Will (Daniel Germino-Watnick), who looks for what is behind his father’s tall stories. The story has been compared to The Wizard of Oz, The Music Man, and The Odyssey, due to the fantasy elements and the epic trajectory of the father’s stories, although I made sense of it by comparing it to Death of a Salesman, if Willy Loman had much more imagination.
The story shifts between two timelines. In the present, sixty-year-old Edward Bloom faces his mortality while the son, Will, gets ready to become a father himself. Edward Bloom seems to express himself primarily with stories, if not parables, and this seems to exasperate his son, who comes to believe that his father is a blowhard, an unreliable reporter of his own life. The father cannot even seem to answer a direct question, or follow through on a promise, and for example discloses the pre-marital pregnancy of the son’s bride without remorse or sensitivity at the wedding dinner. He makes a toast that he has “recently decided to become a grandfather,” and that he has reason to believe that his wish “may come true sooner than expected.”
Edward’s wife Sandra (Amanda Silverstein) tells her son Will that although noth he and his father can be a handful, she loves them both (“Two Men in My Life”) and tries to give her son advice about how to decipher his father’s life through his fables. Her understanding of the father’s style is that he is engaged in the expression of the need for personal myths.
The doctor who treats the apparently dying Edward in the hospital advises the son to string the various stories together to reveal the life lessons he is trying to impart. This reconciliation is urgent as his father is coming to the end of his life and Will needs a perspective on his father, which the father is not prepared to facilitate in any kind of a linear fashion. Although the father (the voice of the imagination) is ultimately revealed to have been honorable and even heroic, the positive truth about him has been hard to expose by the rationally-inclined son.
Big Fish is a lavish and energetic visual production with mythological creatures including an elephant, a mermaid, and tree trunks that become a coven of witches. Kevin Kuchar’s costumes are elaborate and add a lot to the experience of spectacle and the evocation of a jungle or a circus.
Kudos to Director Kuchar who also wore that hats of Set Designer and Costume Designer, and to Lighting Designer Scott Selman for his brilliant work.
Musical Director Josephine Rigg and her musicians deserve a special nod: Manny Arciniega, drums; Chris Brown, bass; Dana Gardner, reeds; Gary Prince, guitar; Josephine Riggs, keyboard; and Demarr Woods, trumpet for playing Andrew Lippa’s score so beautifully.
And now to some of the vocal highlights of the show. Liam Allen is outstanding as Edward, and he is on stage for most of the production. He is a charismatic and engaging actor who is creditable as the font of imagination and the frustrating and frustrated paternal figure who is the core of this production. His rendition of ‘Be the Hero” started the show with a bang, and his performance of “How it Ends” was heartbreaking. “Stranger” is delivered with great emotion, as is “What’s Next” with Allen in the Second Act.
Amanda Silverstein is one tough cookie as Edward’s devoted wife Sandra, and is not only a terrific actress, but she has a stunningly powerful and beautiful voice, and she demonstrated her vocal skills on “Two Men in My Life,” Time Stops,” and “I Don’t Need a Roof.” And the chemistry between her and Allen really shone in the beautiful “Daffodils,’ which they sing at the end of First Act.
Daniel Germino-Watnick’s emotional rendition of “Stranger” is delivered with great emotion, and his duet with Allen “What’s Next” brought the audience members in my row to tears. This talented young actor delivers a very convincing performance.
And a nod to Carla Astudillo who brought the house down as the not so nice Witch, and to Justin Marks, who sweetly plays Young Will. He joins Ian Allen for “Fight The Dragons.”
Representatives of dozens of prestigious institutions of higher education have contributed their talents to this production, including Bethesda Chevy Chase High School’s Amanda Annika Cowles, Schools Without Walls High School’s Andrew Stover;Bullis’ Sophie Glassman and Teddy Sullivan; Churchill HS’s Queen Griff, Madeline Statter, and Madeline Schupak; Walt Whitman’s Sloan Carver and Becca Haven), Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School’s Rachael Schindler; School for Tomorrow’s Olivia Allen, Wootton High School’s Max Fowler; Brookewood School’s Mariagustina Fabar, Magruder High School’s Marc Pavan, National Cathedral School’s Madison Jones, and James Madison High School’s Maddie Rinehart; St. Andrew’s Episcopal School’s Cameron Mitchell Walter; Johnson High School’s Carolyn Reid; CES/JDS’ Ben Shrock, and Yorktown High School’s Claire DeCroix. What an amazing group of talented actors and singer they all are!
Again, Act Two @ Levine has produced a top-notch production filled with imaginative design and featuring so many local and talented young actors and singers. This Big Fish, and everyone involved in this huge undertaking, deserves a standing ovation.
Big Fish ended its short run on March 22, 2015 at Act Two at Levine’s Pre-Professional program, erformed performed at THEARC (Town Hall Education Arts & Recreation Campus) – 1901 Mississippi Avenue, SE, Suite 201, in Washington, DC. Please visit their website for information on upcoming productions.