Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Big Fish
Spreckels Theatre Company
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Beautiful Dirty Sexy Me, and The Thrush & the Woodpecker: A Revenge Play

The Cast
Photo by Eric Chazankin
The original Broadway production of Big Fish played a scant 39 performances before anemic ticket sales and tepid reviews brought down the curtain barely a month after it opened. After enduring Spreckels Theatre Company's opening night performance of the show at the Codding Theater in Rohnert Park, it's easy to see why: a tepid and facile score by Andrew Lippa, and a book that tells lots of stories but has no real narrative drive and is so saccharine it makes Hallmark feel like Friedrich Nietzsche in comparison. Director Gene Abravaya, therefore, had a very tough row to hoe.

Fortunately for Abravaya, he cast the very appealing Darryl Strohl-DeHerrera in the role of Edward Bloom, the titular "big fish" in the small pond of a tiny Alabama town. Though Strohl-DeHerrera's voice isn't up to the challenges of Lippa's unmemorable songs, he nonetheless exhibits a charm and ease on stage that spills over to the rest of the cast. As an ensemble they nearly save this production with terrific singing (as a chorus—they are less powerful as individuals), energetic dancing and gentle sincerity.

The story of Big Fish with all its magical, larger-than-life elements is probably better suited for musical comedy than for the film version by Tim Burton, or perhaps even the original novel by Daniel Wallace. Protagonist Bloom is a fabulist, a sweet Alabama boy who loves a tall tale and never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. Unfortunately for his son, Will, all that exaggeration has led him to feel he'll never truly know his father. And with cancer in full-fledged attack against his father, Will fears the truth may be forever lost.

The character of Edward Bloom is especially fascinating in light of the current presidential race, for Bloom is both an incarnation of Donald Trump and the antithesis of the Republican nominee. Like Trump, Bloom believes you can create your own reality. Like Trump, he wants to be remembered as being bigger than he actually was. But unlike The Donald, Bloom is —like the show itself—almost relentlessly optimistic. No matter what happens to him, Bloom smiles through it all and finds the best in everyone. He embodies the bromide that we all have to die one day—but every other day we don't, and we ought to enjoy the present with gusto.

Bloom's optimism, however—or anyone's optimism, for that matter—is no match for Death, and Will must find a way to discover the truth of his father's life before the Grim Reaper arrives. Optimism is also no match for the demands of art, and despite the efforts of the cast, this Big Fish is no catch. The projections that help set the scenes in Spreckels productions once again fail. The designs are lackluster to say the least, and exhibit no unity of vision. The orchestra delivers a faltering, sloppy interpretation of an already below-average score—though in their defense, their playing tightened up considerably in act two.

Late in act two, I (and those around me) were treated to the sound of loud snoring, which, it turned out, was coming from the service dog in the row behind me. I guess it takes one to know one.

Big Fish runs through August 28, 2016, at the Codding Theater in the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m and Thursday, August 25 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $16-$26 and are available by calling the box office at 707-588-3400. Box office hours are 12-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The box office is also open one hour before showtime. Additional information is available at

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