ON BOSTON STAGES – On Broadway, “Big Fish” was a fish out of water, so to speak. The musical opened in 2013 to mixed reviews and ran for only three months.
The show’s creators, John August and Andrew Lippa, were among those who thought that the dazzling production numbers designed by director Susan Stroman tended to overwhelm the plot.
So they re-imagined the show for smaller theater companies and it caught on. That put it squarely in the wheelhouse of the Americana Theatre Company, based in downtown Plymouth for the last 14 years.
The company has picked up the theatrical ball and run with it, and the result is a musical at the Spire Center for the Arts with both heart and soul, lovingly told by a company all in on the project.
“Big Fish” is based on the 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace that was turned into a 2003 movie directed by Tim Burton. Stripped to its basics, it’s all about fish stories, the kind of stories traveling salesman Edward Bloom (Nick Hancock) would tell his son Will in rural Alabama on one of the few occasions when he briefly got off the road.
Life is a journey with many stops and starts, and Will – played as a youngster by Jude Sullivan and as an adult by Connor Northcutt — grows up not knowing where the truth about huis father begins and ends.
Will hears about a witch (Morgan Mena) who reveals to his father the manner in which he will die.
Edward tells all about the town of Ashton, where he was a hero who had the love of the head cheerleader Jenny Hill (Mena in a dual role) as his girlfriend and where he “saved” the town.
The father and son are unable to accept each other as they are, and the divide is at the heart of the story. When the adult Will, now married with a pregnant wife, learns of his father’s terminal illness he returns home to try and make up for all the time they didn’t have together growing up. He makes it his mission to find the man behind the stories before it’s too late.
Andrew Lippa’s score has its moments, but it is the book by August based on his screenplay for the film that does the heaviest lifting. Lippa’s best numbers coincide with the imaginative staging and choreography from director Derek G. Martin. “Be a Hero” is a lively tribute to the virtues of seizing the opportunities life gives you. “Little Lambs from Alabama” gives Edward the chance to first meet then circus performer Sandra Templeton (Kelly Ann Dunn), the woman who would become his wife. “Start Over” gives the entire company a chance to shine.
Martin also provided creative scenic design with images of rippling water, trees, a cave with bats, fields of daffodils, the Bloom family’s picket fenced- house, a hospital room, even Auburn’s Samford Hall.
Until his illness Hancock’s Bloom is an irrepressible spirit, enthusiastic and creative, always in motion. He spins the ever-taller tales, stories that often make him the center of attention, even at his son’s wedding. But his stories, instead of bringing them together, often end up driving them further apart.
Edward’s wife Sandra is a rock of support for her husband. Edward follows her to Auburn University and he gradually woos – with the aid of a great many daffodils — her away from her fiancé. She voices her support in “Magic in the Man.”
There are several actors who are Americana regulars in key roles. Jesse M. Sullivan is Karl the Giant, who despite his appearance — which terrifies many in Edward’s small hometown — later turns out to be a sensitive, thoughtful soul, teaching us all about the perils of stereotyping.
David Friday charms as circus impresario Amos Calloway, who employs Edward at his circus and begrudgingly and slowly helps him – with the aid of a great many daffodils – woo Sandra after she leaves for Auburn University.
Macy MacDiarmid is also solid as Will’s loving wife Josephine.
Jesse Winton is Don Price, a high school rival of Edward’s who comes in and out of his life. There’s also solid support from Samuel Quinzon as Zacky Price, and Linnea Remillard, Abby Kramer, Erin Friday, Harley Ardizzoni, Karly Friday, and even director Martin in supporting roles and as ensemble members.
No one in the cast is idle during “Big Fish.” The ensemble will portray fishermen, wedding guests, circus performers, and college students, zipping in and out of Rosalie Martin’s costumes quickly and efficiently.
Ultimately, Will discovers among his father’s belongings a document closely connecting his father and his former flame, Jenny Hill. What he finds out will change his life and the memory of his father forever.
“Big Fish” is a musical that wears its heart on its sleeve, so be prepared for big emotions, big stories, big laughs, and, along the way, big fun.
The Americana Théâtre Co. production of “Big Fish.” Book by John August, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the screenplay of John August’s Columbia Motion Picture, directed by Tim Burton. Directed and choreographed by Derek G. Martin. Music direction by Sarah Troxler. Lighting by Heather Crocker. Sound by Ed McGee. At the Spire Center for the Performing Arts, Plymouth, through July 30. To purchase tickets, or for more information about Americana Theatre Company, visit americanatheatre.org, or call 508-591-0282.
By Rich Fahey