Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

Big Fish
Slow Burn Theatre Company
Review by John Lariviere | Season Schedule

Also see John's review of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Anne Marie Olson and Shane Tanner
Photo by Gemma Bramham
Slow Burn Theatre Company kicks off the 2015-2016 season at its new home at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts with the musical Big Fish, featuring music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book by John August. The musical is based on Daniel Wallace's 1998 novel, "Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions," and the 2003 movie adapted by John August.

The story revolves around the relationship between traveling salesman Edward Bloom and his adult son Will, who has reached a point in his life where he is searching for what truths are behind all of his father's tall tales. In the face of serious illness, a sixty-year-old Edward Bloom faces his own mortality at the same time that his only son Will prepares to marry and become a father himself. Somewhere amidst colorfully embellished stories of witches, giants, mermaids, werewolves, jumping fish, and heroic battles is the real story of Edward's past and Will's future.

After a successful Chicago tryout, Big Fish had its Broadway premiere on October 6, 2013, at the Neil Simon Theatre. It closed on December 29, 2013 after 34 previews, 98 regular performances, and mixed reviews.

When a Broadway show seems to come and go pretty quickly without much buzz—especially when it is based on a known book or movie—it is easy to dismiss it as probably not worth seeing if it does come your way. Nothing could be further from the truth for this heart-felt Slow Burn production of Big Fish. It is easily the best thing this theatre company has ever done, for two reasons. First, they have embraced the sentimentality of the script with sincerity. Up until now they have spent considerable energy repeatedly proving their "edginess" and defying conventional directorial approaches. Second, they have cast the perfect actor for the role of Edward Bloom. Shane Tanner's performance is nothing short of amazing, and surely this whole musical would be dreck in the hands of the wrong actor. He takes the audience members through all of his character's fanciful tales and every-day moments as if they are the best of friends, along for a ride. Tanner immerses himself in this character to the point that we stop being aware that he is singing and acting. Whatever else this musical has to offer, it is worth seeing it to catch Tanner's performance.

As Edward's wife Sandra, Ann Marie Olson is charming in "Little Lamb from Alabama" and heart-wrenching in "I Don't Need A Roof." Song moments of harmony with Edward are all gloriously sung by both. Justen Fox-Hall turns in a polished performance as Will Bloom, but needs to raise his character's stakes earlier in the show to match the level of Tanner and Olson. Anjane Girwarr is perhaps a bit too perky as Josephine Bloom, but has a warm and inviting stage presence.

A talented ensemble whizzes through a myriad of dance styles including tap, African, and country western, all while juggling multiple costume and wig changes. Director/choreographer Patrick Fitzwater has risen to the choreographic occasion admirably, as this production features a diverse level of technique he has not previously shown. The live six-piece orchestra plays the interesting score beautifully. Lighting, sound, costumes, and wigs come together nicely to highlight the action onstage. However, Slow Burn has missed out on huge projection art possibilities that could have transported the audience even further.

Be sure to go to see this show a soon as you can; just be sure to bring your handkerchief, because you may need it for the final scene.

The Slow Burn Theatre production of Big Fish will be appearing through November 8, 2015, in the Amaturo Theater of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, in the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District at 201 SW Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, FL. For tickets or other information, contact them by phone at 954-462-0222, 954-462-0222 or online at

Slow Burn Theatre Company is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) professional theatre company hiring local actors and actresses. They are committed to bringing high-quality contemporary musical theatre to South Florida, and to proving that modern Broadway can rock. For more information on Slow Burn, you may contact them by phone at 866-811-4111, 866-811-4111 or visit

The Broward Center for the Performing Arts houses the Au-Rene Theater, the Amaturo Theatre, and the Abdo New River Room, and has affiliated venues at the Parker Playhouse, the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center, and the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center.

Edward Bloom: Shane Tanner
Will Bloom: Justen Fox-Hall
Sandra Bloom: Ann Marie Olson
Young Will: Gabe Sklar
Josephine Bloom: Anjane Girwarr
Karl: Christopher Mitchell
Amos Calloway: Matthew Korinko
Don Price: Ben Sandomir
The Witch: Kendra Williams
Jenny Hill: Leah Marie Sessa
Girl in the Water/Dancing Fire: Emily Tarallo
Dr. Bennett/Mayor: Geoffrey Short
Zacky Price: Joshua Conner
The Alabama Lambs: Nicole Kinzel & Meagan Nagy
Fisherman: Brian Varela
Ensemble: Corey Vega, James Patrick Giordano, Nicole Kinzel, Meagan Nagy, Brian Varela, Emily Tarallo (Dance Captain)

Director/Choreographer/Wig Design: Patrick Fitzwater
Music Director: Emmanuel Schvartzman
Scenic Design: Sean McClelland
Lighting Design: Preston Bircher
Sound Design: Richard Szczublewski
Costume Design: Rick Pena
Stage Manager: Britni Serrano

-- John Lariviere

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