Croswell’s Big Fish will charm you, then tear your heart out (Review)

Croswell Opera House in Adrian Michigan continues its very strong summer season with the new Broadway musical BIG FISH, based on the movie and the book by Daniel Wallace. Book by  John August, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (Go Blue!)


Disclaimer right off the top: I adore this musical — I saw it in pre-Broadway previews in Chicago, and then the very reworked piece on Broadway, and I am directing it for Ann Arbor Civic Theater in Spring of 2016.

The production that arrives at the Croswell is a solid, well designed, well-acted evening of theater — and this is one of those rare “new musicals” that has a strong book-driven story and a great new score. Edward Bloom, lifelong teller of tall tales which include himself as the hero in each one, has grown estranged from his now-grown son (who is getting married and expecting a child of his own). When Bloom Sr is diagnosed with terminal cancer, his son sets about trying to find out the truth behind the tall tales, and who his father really is. It has the inevitable ending — but what gets you to that point is the most interesting part of this show.

Jonathan Sills vocal directs and conducts a superb orchestra, and keeps the very tricky score flowing along without missing a beat. The production was directed by Betsy Lackey and choreographed by Jessica Adams.

Eric Parker is tremendous as Edward Bloom, easily swinging back and forth from younger Bloom to older Bloom. His son Will is very nicely played by Dale White who carries a large part of the show, and does so well. His wife Sandra is played by Kyrie Bristle in another wonderful vocal performance. There is some excellent support work here as well: Stephanie L Stephan as the Witch who shows Edward his path – Benjamin Rosebrock as Karl the Giant whose story brings surprising tears at the end of the show himself – Karl Kasischke as Don Price, high school blowhard and competitor for Sandra’s hand in marriage – and John Bacarella as a circus owner with a big secret.

There are plenty of surprises in the tales as they weave together the past fantastic and the present discord to what is one of my favorite endings of a Broadway show in a very long time. On the way you get witches, giants, tapping girls, elephants, circus canons, and some wonderful things, and you’ll feel very much like son Will trying to make sense of this unique man on his journey. From the first scenes you know that he has “seen how he dies” in the witches crystal ball — and what a journey it takes to that point!

What makes the show resonate is that every single person in the audience can relate to something; the romance, the death of a parent, marriage, relationships, unknown paths, the mysteries of growing up, the circle of parents, sons, and daughters.

Not everything is smooth sailing: Sound occasionally drops out, and this is noticeable during large crowd scenes. Speaking of large crowd scenes, like Mary Poppins a few weeks back, the show has a few too many people up on that stage, and in one instance a very awkward dance sequence that came out of left field. Pacing is inconsistent, and I thought some of the action was a bit too far upstage away from the audience. Sometimes a few of the songs feel a bit stagnant, when there should be some movement on stage — there’s a lot of emotion to contain in some of these pieces, and at times its contained a bit too much.

But then you’ll be blown away by simple moments such as Bristle’s “I don’t need a roof” and all is forgiven, and the hankies come out, and they stay out from that point to the stirring finish.

Big Fish continues at the Croswell Opera House through July 26th.

I am supposed to mention that Steven Kiss and Becca Nowak did a tremendous job handling their concessions duties.*      (*Note: I did not purchase any concessions)



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