Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
I have been a fan of some of Andrew Lippa's previous work, including The Wild Party and I Am Harvey Milk, but I don't think Big Fish represents his best work. The story screams to have the conflict between father Edward Bloom and grown son Will delineated in differing musical palettes, but Lippa does not rise to the occasion, offering only a series of Broadway style tunes, some catchy, others not particularly. Perhaps I was expecting more of him than he has previously delivered; truth to tell, musical characterization has never been his strong suitexample: The Addams Family. Also, there are problems with the book, with the flow from reality to Edward's fantasy world not always as smooth as it could be.
Michael Wogaman, new to me, is good as Edward Bloom but lacks the final layer of charm that would make the character really own the show. Tristan Martin plays grown up Will and one can really sense Will's alienation from a father so completely different, emotionally, from himself. Martin's performance reminds me of another role he played very well, Neville Landless in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, very emotionally withdrawn. This is quite suitable for the character. Anne Marshman as mother/wife Sandra Bloom is very good, but the role seems to be lacking a major song, surprising since on Broadway it was played by the very talented Kate Baldwin.
As Josephine Bloom, Will's wife and The Witch, we have Yvonne Clark, making her Players debut. Other fine featured performances come from Nicholas Quinn as Young Will, Daniel Pelissier as Karl the Giant, Bill Sarazen as Amos Calloway and Dr. Bennett, Chris Hines as Done Price, and Eliza Lipton as Jenny Hill. Also in the cast are Hailey Laferty as Girl in the Water, Jacob Taylor as Zacky Price and the Mayor, and Patrick Higgins who appears in the ensemble. Mr. Higgins recently appeared as Billy Elliot at another theater, so it should come as no surprise that his dancing is star-worthy.
It is hard to assess blame in this production, which is largely inert. Direction by Michael Newton-Brown is pedestrian, and his set design is also far short of the best I have seen at this theater in the past. Music direction by Rebecca Heintz is one of the strongest elements of the show. Choreographer Brian Finnerty is decent; he knows how much dancing his cast is capable of and doesn't press beyond what they can successfully accomplish. Costume design by Tim Beltley also doesn't propel the show to fantastical heights of fantasy. Lighting design by Ryan E. Finzelber is, as always, thoroughly professional. I kept getting the feeling that it's possible all of those involved just did not fall in love this show.
I'm glad that The Players and our other community theater companies reach out for new and varied repertory, staging new shows that may not have been overly successful on Broadway. Big Fish certainly is going to have some appeal to audiences. I just wish they had put more pizazz into the production.
Big Fish runs through March 5, 2017, at The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL. Box Office: 941-365-2494. For more information visit www.theplayers.org.
Director: Michael Newton-Brown