Suppose that, as you read this on your screen, you are drawn in by its entertaining anecdotes and amusing viewpoints? But while enjoying it all, you slowly start questioning its truthfulness. Is a little exaggeration OK? Where do truth and fiction diverge and is it ultimately harmful or, in the end, forgivable?
…a surprising summer treat…a rich visual and vocal experience…is a whale of a tale and a must see for a summer Fairfax getaway!
Who knew that these questions would emerge from the unlikeliest of sources—the musical “Big Fish,” a surprising summer treat performed by City of Fairfax Theatre Company (CFTC). Based on the 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace and John August’s screenplay for the 2003 Tim Burton film, the musical made its appearance on Broadway in 2013. The main character, the notable Edward Bloom (the affable and engaging Peter Marsh), lives a larger than life existence and has the tales to back it up. Instant opposition is provided by his son, Will (a commanding performance by Noah Mutterperl), who resents his father’s tall claims and feels he never really gets to know him. This natural tension and the fanciful stories that come to life in Bloom’s imagination provide quite a musical tableau and CFTC has handled it with a surprising display of talent for such a challenging a show. The production was a rich visual and vocal experience, made more unbelievably believable in musical form.
We see some of Edward’s tall tales come to life in flashbacks of his past. Through a mermaid’s kisses, he learns of the meaning of love; an encounter with a witch in the forest tells him how he will die; his meeting and saving a giant from a life of solitude makes him his lifelong friend. He takes his new larger than life friend, Carl (Marcus Pennisi, with wonderful dry wit), to the circus where he meets his true love, Sandra (Maura Lacy, a talented triple-threat). He coincidentally has to wait three years to finally meet again and marry—after being shot out of a cannon to get to her. It could happen.
The show is a wonderful suspension of belief and it works because of the earnestness of the characters who are not cutouts. The acting driving force is Edward’s son Will, whose searing determination to find out the truth is evident. The entertainment value is summed up in the audacious production numbers, which, out of the mind of Edward Bloom, are expansive.
Upwards of 50 actors and ensemble players recreate many imaginative scenes. For example, the witch scene was marvelously choreographed and costumed, with festooned dancers undulating in circles of temptation. The witch, played by Alicia Zheng, was a charming enchantress, who would entice anyone into the woods.
The circus scene was an eye-popper, jam-packed with visual goodies. Edward brings Carl to the circus and is smitten with Sandra who is auditioning with a cute dittie, “Little Lamb from Alabama.” Why she is doing that when going off to college, don’t ask. Circus barker Amos Calloway (Andy Shaw) is hilarious as the cantankerous shyster who turns out to be not what he seems. Daffodils, a sign of Edward and Sandra’s love, are everywhere as props with the audience members and in video projections, judiciously used throughout the show.
Marsh, as the eternal dreamer Bloom, has the yeoman’s task of playing his younger self and present day adult. He carries himself well, with an acceptable singing voice and overall southern charm. As the ever-patient Sandra, Lacy exhibits a poignant moment holding Edward in her arms in a soft alto-soprano as she intones “I Don’t Need a Roof.” Mutterperl’s vocals were consistent and strong in his early song, “Stranger,” which set the tone for the relational challenges ahead. “How It Ends” nicely brought the turmoil to bear in effortless notes.
Music direction by Dr. Redden-Liotta was nicely understated, with a formal orchestral sound that supported many different sound effects. Costuming for such as show as this, replete with many changes, was impressive. Colors blended or were garish, as needed.
Director and producer Amanda Herman Snellings has put together quite an event, incorporating a large cast and a young adult ensemble. She captured the humanity and sweetness of the musical’s themes. The key to “Big Fish” is found in Will’s understanding the reality and value of his father’s stories before his father died. Will really understands and we see that in the final scene as he is raising his own daughter, filling her head with awesome “big fish” stories of his own.
“Big Fish” is a whale of a tale and a must see for a summer Fairfax getaway!
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
“Big Fish” runs through July 29, 2023 by the City of Fairfax Theatre Company at Katherine Johnson Middle School, 3801 Jermantown Rd, Fairfax, VA 22030. For more information and tickets, go online.