|Photograph by Kate Williams|
This version of the Broadway musical, BIG FISH is called the 12 Chair Version. The original production had, for instance, a cast of something like 45 performers. This version has only 12. It is an authenticated and approved version. At the performance I saw it was a 13 Chair (performer) version. The leading actor, Phillip Lowe, was suffering from a voice difficulty, and so, as so often happens at the Opera, for instance, Mr Lowe walked-danced the role he had rehearsed, but was voiced, both dialogue and song (under-studied) by the Director, Tyran Parke, in a 'chair' in the front row. Mr Lowe did not lip-sync the dialogue just the songs - it was still a very effective, affective experience. (It did underline, however, the odd disembodied experience we have with much musical theatre, when the voices are miked - the sound coming from the broadcast speakers rather than from the body of the actors - so one can ask: does it really matter whether the performers are actually singing or lip-synching to create an experience for the audience at a modern Musical Theatre performance? It seemed not at BIG FISH with Tyran Parke singing while Phillip Lowe mimed and lip-synched - it all seemed normal! It may be what, among other things, made the recent CALAMITY JANE experience so refreshingly exciting, in that the actors sang unaided by electronic boost - we, the audience, were invited to 'lean' into the artists and see AND hear the sound coming from the actual body of the artist, not from broadcast speakers above our/their heads - we became a vulnerable part of the imaginative, visceral experience with the performers.)
Mr Parke, has created a beautiful production with the Production Design elements by Anna Gardiner and Martelle Hunt creating a false proscenium of ocean blues and white gauze curtains for the magic of the storytelling with costume and properties wittily and 'magically', often 'delicately', apt for the shift in scene and storytelling. The Lighting by Matthew Tunchon has a tremendous diverse and intricate sensitivity in assisting in the 'gorgeousness' of the show - it looks marvellous. The Choreography, by Cameron Mitchell is inventive and lightweight - in the proper sense (an amazing contrast in 'style' to his clever non-choreographic influence in CALAMITY JANE, the last show seen at the Hayes), and executed with élan and gusto by all on this tiny stage.
The musical Direction, by Luke Byrne, with his small band of six musicians has a depth of Sound and a briskness that keeps it all moving - even if the Music score and lyrics, by Andrew Lippa, are not necessarily memorable. All of the performances are well acted, sung and danced - there was a great sense of the ensemble carrying the responsibility of the storytelling of this musical with great heart and imbued belief - it seemed they 'loved' what they were doing: Seth Drury (oddly, affecting as Karl the Giant), Brendan Godwin, Joel Granger, Zoe Ioannou, Brenden Lovett (full of inventive energy and having fun with a number of 'hair' disguises), Alessandro Merlo, Brittanie Shipway, Aaron Tsindos (enjoying himself in this genre) and Zachary Webster, with Phillip Lowe, in the principal role of Edward Bloom (voiced amazingly well by Tyran Parke), Katrina Retallick (strolling comfortably through the role of the wife and mother, Sandra Bloom) Adam Rennie, as Will Bloom (well sung, if not, always, carrying the role of the disaffected son convincingly) and Kirby Burgess. A young actor, on my night, Sam Wood, confidently took on the young Will Bloom.
One could not want a more wonderfully executed production. It is first class.
I personally, do not like the premise of BIG FISH - nor, do I much warm to the hero of the story, Edward Bloom - it has the overt sentimentality of a classic Broadway musical - a fractious father (Edward) and son (Will) relationship; the father being a Travelling Salesman (hello Mr Loman) and a Disillusioned Son (hello Biff), which is reconciled at a painful death-bed of cancer, with a contrasting birth of a new son and father relationship arriving (aww!), which, they seem to promise, will be better - lessons have been learnt (Yes). Intermingle some wholesome, heart-warming stories spun with all the misty romance of a knee-slapping country Alabama populated by naive 'yokels', circus folk, fish, mermaids, witches, giants and heroics that push the limits of believability, and add the 'reality' tension of a patient wife suspecting an uncomfortable extra-marital affair (that may or may not have been requited) and a town threatened with flooding, and you may exit the theatre with a 'sugar-hit' of indigestible manipulation. On the other hand it may be just what you love about the musical theatre genre: says the synopsis in the program at its end: "BIG FISH, a magnificent tale. Spectacular, fantastical, and overflowing with love."
In an early flash back scene, Edward sits on his son's bed and tries to read to him the book his boy Will had been reading. Edward - dad - cannot even pronounce the characters' names, it is the Greek classic, Homer's THE ODYSSEY. He tells Will to abandon such stuff, flinging the closed book to the bottom of the bed, and rather to listen to his dad's home spun stuff about a witch and a predicted future. But, you know what? after watching this show, I reckon, Will was on the right track. I wished that Will had won out and we had heard the story of Agamemnon instead of Edward's hero.
The Hayes Theatre quality production reputation flies high no matter the content of the show. - and that is simply a matter of personal taste.