The story follows Edward and his adult son Will over a series of years, with Will often doubting the farfetched stories his father tells of his past. Through a series of flashbacks, including encounters with a mermaid, a giant and even a werewolf, we relive the events of Edward's past, often questioning, like Will, they are true or not. August's imaginative book, which also focuses on Will trying to find the facts among the fables, and Lippa's tuneful songs combine to effectively bring the events and characters to life with both humorous and dramatic results.
The AYT cast is just about perfect, with Jonah Carlson excellent as Edward. Instilling the part with an assured take on a matter of fact "everyman," Carlson not only has you believing in Edward's seemingly imaginary tales but makes you care for him as well. His acting and singing abilities are top notch. As Will, Miles Johnson allows us to understand why he is agitated and has just about had enough of his father's tales, without making the frustration and skepticism appear as anger. This is important to make us care for him, which we do. Johnson has a clear, strong voice, so it's a shame that Will doesn't have that many songs. Sidne Phillips is stunning as Edward's wife Sandra. She clearly projects Sandra's love for her husband and son and makes us understand that she loves Edward, even though he may be making up the stories he tells. Phillips is also a smashing dancer and singer. Her delivery of "I Don't Need a House" is beautiful.
As Josephine, Will's sweet-natured new wife, India Rose Chudnow is charming. She shows Josephine's determination, along with Sandra, to bring the two men back together. Jarem Bailey is absolutely amazing as Young Will, with perfect line delivery that is sweet and sincere yet also includes a big dose of skepticism. Danny Blankemeier is touching as the giant Karl, but also brings a nice layer of humor to the part. In smaller parts, Emma Welch as Jenny Hill, a secret woman from Edward's past, makes all the right acting choices, delivering a solid character in just a few short scenes; Noah Delgado is funny as the circus ringmaster with a secret and Phoebe Koyabe has a powerful voice as the Witch. While the large ensemble and leads are all very good, some of the cast, including a couple of the main cast, could project a bit more, as some of the dialogue and lyrics are hard to hear.
Directors Julie Clement and Marcus Ellsworth do an exceptional job ensuring that the whimsy of the piece doesn't overpower the serious moments, but also let plenty of humor come naturally from the actors and staging. They paint some memorable moments in their lively staging and also make effective use of the center aisle in the theatre for a few key entrances and exits. Choreography from the trio of Ellsworth, Kristen Malarkey, and Corinne Mann is lively and original, including a superb "Little Lamb from Alabama" dance. Mike Smyth's set design works very well to move us from the Bloom house to the various locations in the show and back again, though the heavy bed design does require a few slightly longer scene change moments. Perhaps having it on wheels would have solved that problem. Aurelie Flores' costumes are both period specific and imaginative for some of the characters in Edward's tales, including spectacular outfits for the Witch and her dancers. The lighting design from Tom Fitzwater includes some beautiful underwater images, and Tracie Jones' music direction provides assured singing from her cast and some lovely harmonies.
While the main themes of the musicallove your family and live life to its fullestmay not be new, and the second act does bog down a bit, the important message of realizing that every person you meet is unique and that everyone can be the hero of their own story is something all of us could take to heart. On Broadway, Big Fish was a big musical, with large set pieces and elaborate special effects. Perhaps Actor's Youth Theatre's small budget production, which doesn't allow the spectacle to overtake the story, is how this musical needs to be seen. It lets the imagination and messages of Edward Bloom spring beautifully to life. The success of this production and the fact that the company's next show, Bonnie and Clyde, is another Broadway flop musical shows they aren't afraid to take challenges, not just keep producing the same family friendly shows over and over again, and proves why AYT is one of the best youth theatres in the Valley.
The Actor's Youth Theatre production of Big Fish runs through July 1st, 2015, with performances at the Tuscany Theatre, 861 N Higley Rd, Suite 105, Gilbert, AZ 85234. Tickets and information for this and upcoming productions can be found at actorsyouththeatre.org or by calling 480-907-7050
Directed by Julie Clement and Marcus Ellsworth