Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Big Fish
Brelby Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of 13, The Taming of the Shrew, Two Trains Running, Next to Normal, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Cyrus Hilding and Nicholas Hambruch (front) and Cast
Photo by Shelby Maticic
The whimsical musical Big Fish, which is based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the Tim Burton film, didn't fare very well when it played on Broadway, running only a few months. But it has found a fairly successful second life in regional theatres. It has even warranted an officially licensed, smaller-cast version of the show. Brelby Theatre Company presents the area debut of this 12-person cast adaptation in a winning production that proves that when you've got talented actors, an interesting story, and imaginative characters, a smaller cast doesn't detract from the big heart of this musical.

The plot follows the story of traveling salesman Edward Bloom, a gifted storyteller whose son often doubts the farfetched stories of his father's past. Through a series of flashbacks, including encounters with a witch, a mermaid, a giant, and even a werewolf, we relive the events of Edward's past and go along on Will's journey as he tries to find the facts within the fiction of his father's past.

Andrew Lippa's score has numerous memorable and catchy tunes and John August's book paints vivid and emotionally rich characters. For this smaller cast version, a couple of the large production numbers have been eliminated and replaced with other songs, including the excellent "This River Between Us," which was cut after the show's pre-Broadway tryout. It's nice to see that song has been added back for this version.

Director Shelby Maticic has found a great cast with three superb leads who beautifully portray both the heightened emotional scenes and the comical moments in the story. Nicholas Hambruch is excellent as Edward. Hambruch pulls the audience into the many stories that Edward tells, making us believe them and, when the story progresses and he has some health issues, also has us deeply caring for him as well. Hambruch's rich singing voice excels on every song he sings and he projects a realistic chemistry with both Anand Khalsa, who plays his son, and Addison Bowman, who plays his wife Sandra.

With an always serious and agitated demeanor that perfectly depicts the doubting son, Khalsa is superb as Will. His singing voice is rich and strong. His forceful delivery of "Stranger" is excellent, as is the duet of "This River Between Us" he shares with Hambruch. Bowman projects warmth and love for the two men in Sandra's life and is both a talented singer and dancer. Her performance of "I Don't Need a House," in which Sandra tells Edward that she doesn't need anything but him in her life, is infused with emotion.

In the supporting cast, Jaelyn Brown is sweet and headstrong as Will's new wife, and Cyrus Hilding has good comic timing and is a complete natural as Young Will. As the three main characters in the stories Edward tells, Krissy Johnson, Kevin Fenderson and Brady Anderson are all fine and create unique characters. Mackenzie Morgan is good as a woman in Edward's past and Sarah Bary, Noah Manumaleuga and Anthony Rozzen all get a moment or two to shine.

Director Maticic does a nice job in balancing the fantasy sequences and the serious moments. Her costume designs are a perfect blend of whimsical and realistic period pieces and she stages the action very well on Brian Maticic's imaginative set. Even though this is the smaller cast version, there are still several dance moments and Falin Ossipinsky's choreography is fun and lively. Shelby Huston's hair designs feature effective wigs for Bowman to portray the various ages of her character.

Big Fish is a musical that stirs the emotions as it depicts how a fractured relationship between a father and son can change, grow and heal. Brelby's production is incredibly moving, with a talented cast who excel. It may not have had a long life on Broadway but with important life lessons, intriguing characters, and many fantasy sequences, along with a gorgeous score, it is easy to see why Big Fish is receiving numerous productions in regional theatres. I have to imagine that, with this smaller cast version now available, it will receive even more.

Big Fish, through March 10, 2019, at Brelby Theatre Company, 7154 N 58th Drive, Glendale AZ. Tickets are available at or by phone at 623-282-2781.

Book by John August
Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the Columbia Motion Picture written by John August
Director: Shelby Maticic
Music Direction by Mary Plante Choreography by Falin Ossipinsky Scenic / Lighting Designer: Brian Maticic
Props Design: Jen Gantwerker
Costume Designer: Shelby Maticic
Hair & Makeup Designer: Shelby Huston
Sound Design: Anabel Olguin

Edward Bloom: Nicholas Hambruch
Will Bloom: Anand Khalsa
Sandra Bloom: Addison Bowman
Josephine Bloom: Jaelyn Brown
Young Will: Cyrus Hilding
The Witch: Krissy Johnson
Karl the Giant: Kevin Fenderson
Amos/Dr. Bennett: Brady Anderson
Jenny Hill: Mackenzie Morgan
The Girl in the Water: Sarah Bary
Don Price: Noah Manumaleuga
Zacky Price: Anthony Rozzen