We’ve all heard about the big one that got away. But when Edward Bloom (Tom Warner), the father at the center of Big Fish, tells his over-the-top tall tale, he claims all he has to do is wake up the fish by doing the Alabama Stomp, and they jump right into his pail! The delightful musical version is the season opener, playing through Oct. 3, at the Redhouse Arts Center, 201 S. West St.
Ed’s young son Will (Lambros Alamond) listens to his dad’s wildly imaginative fabrications with slightly skeptical amusement. But when Ed insists upon taking center stage at the wedding party of the now-grown Will (Galen Sato), the son understandably has had enough. “Why do you have to make everything about YOU?” he complains. Only when his father is on his deathbed does Will come to understand the truly heroic accomplishment that his usually boastful father has kept secret.
Sounds gushy, for sure, and a few hankies from audience members are bound to be pulled out toward the end. Yet the show is saved from sentimentality by quirky inventiveness, the engaging music and lyrics of Andrew Lippa, and the first-rate production directed by Redhouse artistic director Stephen Svoboda.
With a creative team that includes set designer Andrea Ball, lighting designer Gregory Griffin, sound designer Anthony Vadala and costume designer Katharine Tarkulich, Svoboda leads theatergoers to suspend their disbelief and enter the Technicolor world of Edward Bloom’s wild adventures. All the elements work together to create the illusion of a scary threat when the little town of Ashton is menaced by a giant named Karl (John Bixler on stilts). The large chorus of terrified townspeople (Svoboda makes good use of talent nurtured through the Redhouse training program) backs away in slow motion as the disheveled giant, his synthesized voice hugely amplified, confronts the unintimidated Edward, who quickly makes a friend of him.
Hang a few cloth swags, and the scene switches to the circus of Amos Calloway (Max Anderson), who is auditioning three young girls in their routine as “Little Lambs from Alabama.” Calloway shoos them home, suspecting their daddy might be a “sheriff with unmedicated rage issues,” but not before Edward falls irrevocably in love with Sandra (Lilli Komurek).
The story line of Big Fish unfolds mostly through its music, under the able direction of Patrick Burns, and its dance, choreographed by Erin Lafferty. OK, we don’t get the huge, slick production numbers of the Broadway version that can be glimpsed on YouTube, but these might only swamp the personal warmth of the relationship that develops between Edward, Sandra, Will and his gentle wife, Josephine (Carmen Viviano-Crafts). Big Fish’s opening weekend performances were sold out, as the rest of the run deserves to be.