Big Fish, directed by TJ Lukacsina, opened this weekend at Slayton House in Columbia, Maryland. With the musical, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and book by John August, Big Fish opened on Broadway in 2013 and only lasted 98 performances. It is based on the 1998 novel Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, written by Daniel Wallace, and it spawned a movie in 2003.
The story revolves around the relationship of Edward and William Bloom, a father and son coming to terms with their sometimes tenuous interactions. Edward was a traveling salesman and often absent during his son’s childhood. When they do communicate, Edward is always telling “tall tales” to his son about Edward’s early life. These stories are laced with witches, mermaids, giants, and werewolves. William is getting married as the story opens, and Edward is obviously very ill. The plot revolves around William trying to find out what is real about his father and what is myth. His mother, Sandra, is very loyal to her husband and not only allows him to tell these tales to their son but encourages it. She is still very much in love with Edward. One of the subplots is their love story and courtship.
The show opens with a choreographed number, “By the Banks of a River” in an interestingly visual silhouette. Luis “Matty” Montes plays Edward. He does a brilliant job defining this character as Edward goes from his teen years until his final days. Edward is always likable and we are drawn immediately into his tales. His musical numbers, “Be a Hero” and “Fight the Dragon,” where he and the ensemble create fantasies for young Will, are two of the highlights of the show.
Emily Mudd as the wife, Sandra, is moving and has a wonderful voice. Mudd creates a woman who we believe has undying love for Edward. Her solo, “I Don’t Need a Roof” is extremely poignant. Her earlier duos with Edward, “Time Stops” and “Daffodils” are two of the show’s more romantic and lyrical pieces.
Michael Nugent does an admirable job as Will. At times he portrays a character we may not like very much, somewhat intolerant, and searching for his own realities. Sometimes they are not what he imagined about his father’s real life. His solo “Stranger” and his duet with Edward, “The River Between Us,” helped us understand this complicated father-son relationship.
Supporting these three is a very talented cast. I particularly enjoyed the performances of Missy Spangler as Josephine Bloom, Will’s new wife, Nick Rose as Karl the Giant, and Christa Kronser as Jenny Hill. Also a standout was Emily Alvarado as The Witch in “I Know What You Want.”
Rounding out this fine cast are Richard Greenslit as Amos Callaway and Dr. Bennett, John Machovec as Don Price, Drew Sharpe as Zacky Price and the Mayor, Emily Machovec as Girl in the Water and Grace La Count as Little Lamb. Samuel Greenslit is a real scene stealer as Young Will.
The direction by Lukacsina was eye-catching, as he uses several levels to create memorable images. The choreography by Rikki Lacewell cleverly keeps the intricacy of the steps to the level of her whole cast so no one is obviously out of sync. Both make use out of the interesting set designed by Alex Porter which was seamlessly lit by Lighting Designer Lana Riggins. The costumes on this plain set of wood planks and crates just pop out at you. They brighten up the show thanks to the designs of Jacqueline Maranville.
It is always nice to have a live orchestra and all the instruments blended nicely with the superb voices of the cast under the direction of Michael Tan.
Although you never have to had read The Odyssey by Homer or Ulysses by James Joyce, it is interesting to note the connections. Odysseus had fabulous adventures, like Edward but on a grander scale. Young Will is reading Homer right before Edward tells him one of his fantastic stories. Also, as I suppose as an homage to Joyce, the main characters are named Bloom, like the main characters in Ulysses. However, if you know nothing about either piece of literature, you will still enjoy the show.
Big Fish is making a big splash at Slayton House. Come over to Slayton House at Wilde Lake Village Center and enjoy it. It will reel you in. (Don’t get fooled and go to the Swim Center right next store. This Big Fish won’t leave a dry eye in the house, but you don’t have to get wet to see it.)
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
Big Fish plays through Sunday, May 27, 2018, at Silhouette Stages performing at Slayton House Theatre in Wilde Lake Village Center— 10400 Cross Fox Lane, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 637-5289, or go online.