Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

Big Fish
Super Summer Theatre / P.S. Productions
Review by Mary LaFrance

Also see Mary's review of Marilyn! The New Musical


Ayler Evan (center) and Cast
Photo by
Big Fish is the tale of a good-hearted traveling salesman and fabulist, Edward Bloom, who constantly spins tall tales of his life's adventures for the benefit of his young son Will. As the grown-up Will prepares for his wedding day, he reveals his exasperation and puzzlement with his father's irrepressible addiction to tall stories, which Will perceives as childish and embarrassing. When his father's health declines, and Will begins to sort through the family's finances to determine whether his mother will be secure, he makes a troubling discovery that sends him on a journey to learn the truth about his father's life.

With music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book by John August, Big Fish is based on a 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace as well as August's screenplay for the 2003 film adaptation directed by Tim Burton. Although there are no real showstoppers, the songs are pleasant and, for the most part, do a good job of advancing and injecting energy into the story.

The weakness of the show is that the central story—Will's quest to understand his father before it's too late—is not inherently dramatic. However, there is also a tale-within-the-tale—the youthful Edward's love-at-first-sight pursuit of Sandra—which weaves together many of Edward's fabulous stories as he overcomes the daunting obstacles that stand in his way. This leads to numerous vignettes featuring a mermaid, a witch, a giant, a human cannonball, and a circus ringmaster who just might be a werewolf.

Two things are essential to making this formula work: a compelling actor in the role of Edward, and plenty of excitement in the fantasy sequences. Super Summer Theatre's production is partially successful on both counts.

In the role of Edward, Ayler Evan is a versatile chameleon. As the script moves back and forth in time, Edward must shape-shift frequently between the middle-aged man on his deathbed, the enthusiastic young father, and the high-spirited youth pursuing his true love. Evan convincingly makes these transitions in the blink of an eye. A fine actor/singer/dancer, he falls just short of having the larger-than-live stage presence that is necessary to elevate the material from amusing to exciting.

On the whole, the fantasy sequences are well performed. As the Witch, Erica Bowers is a strong singer with fine stage presence. Pierre Vanderwest is both formidable and sympathetic as the giant Karl, and Allen Merritt is a hoot as the hirsute ringmaster Amos.

Although Sandra is a much less showy role, Valerie Witherspoon proves to be an exceptional performer. Her down-to-earth, sympathetic portrayal makes Sandra a standout even when surrounded by these larger-than-life characters. She, too, is a fine singer. Taylor Campbell is equally convincing as Will, the conflicted son.

The show takes a while to build up steam. During act one, it's hard to care much about Edward, Will or Sandra, because they don't seem particularly interesting. Act two is more engaging, as we become caught up in the retrospective tale of young Edward's dogged pursuit of Sandra, and Will's present-day attempt to unravel his father's mystery. However, the weaving together of the tall tales results in a storyline that ambles rather than surges.

The excitement that is missing from the script could to some extent be supplied by over-the-top set design, costumes, choreography and special effects. Although "over the top" is no doubt beyond the Super Summer Theatre's budget, each of these elements is more than adequate. Roxanne Andrews' costume designs are especially effective. Thanks to Katherine Gonzalez's sound design, every word is clearly audible despite the challenge of the outdoor setting (including gusting winds on the night of this review). The singing/dancing ensemble acquits itself well. Live music would have injected some much-needed pizzazz, but unfortunately the production has settled for a recorded track.

Despite a solid effort by producer/director Philip Shelburne, who keeps the pace moving, the meandering nature of the Big Fish storyline makes this a show that never quite scales the heights we've come to expect from the best of musical theatre. Nonetheless, Super Summer Theatre has done a respectable job in bringing it to life—more than enough for a pleasant evening under the stars.

Big Fish, through June 9, 2018 (Thursday-Saturday at 8:05 pm), at Super Summer Theatre at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, 6375 Highway 158, Blue Diamond NV. For tickets ($15 general admission), go to supersummertheatre.org.

Cast:
Edward: Ayler Evan
Will: Taylor Campbell
Sandra: Valerie Witherspoon
Josephine, Company: Kirstin Maki
Karl: Pierre Vanderwest
Amos, Company: Allen Merritt
Young Will: Luke Frank
Don Price, Company: Cody Angelo
Jenny Hill, Company: Kelly Edgar
Zacky Price, Company: Ryan Mercier
Witch, Company: Erica Bowers
Mermaid: Angelina Young
Dr. Bennett, Company: Wayne Morton
Company: Yaara Aybar, Cameron Bass, Selena Caballero, Maurice-Aime Green, Heather Guernsey, Alexandria Romain, Caslin Rose, Lauren Taylor, Cierra Bliss Wachtel, Alan Waldron.

Additional Creative
Choreography by Jonas Shumpert; Music/Vocal Direction by Susan Easter; Orchestration by Martin Laniel; Lighting Design by Ellen Bone; Scenic Design by Gregory Crane; Creative Design, Projections, and Props by Ilana Aybar Agron.


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