Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Big FishChance Theater
Review by Bill Eadie


Jared Price and Monika Peña
Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
Andrew Lippa's musical Big Fish flopped miserably on Broadway, despite direction and choreography by Susan Stroman and lead performances by Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin, and Bobby Steggert. But regional audiences are discovering and loving this tuneful charmer with clever lyrics. Anaheim's Chance Theater adds another success to this regional production history, demonstrating once again that thoughtful staging and creative technical aspects can make a smallish house into just the right venue for spinning big tales.

Based on the Tim Burton film, with a book by John August adapted from his screenplay, Big Fish focuses on the age-old problem of sons who try to figure out their fathers. In this case, the son is Will Bloom (Jared Price), and his father is Edward Bloom (Jeff Lowe), a traveling salesman with a load of blarney that spews from his mouth.

As a child, Will tolerated Edward's wild tales of encountering a witch, a giant, a mermaid, and a traveling circus. But, as an adult who is about to marry his fiancée, Josephine (Monika Peña), Will realizes that his father seems to exist only in these stories. He wonders if the real man is hidden away and perhaps is more of a scoundrel than his stories portray him.

The stories unfold episodically, and scenes can change quickly. Bradley Kaye provides a flexible scenic design that accommodates scene shifts via Nick Santiago's projections and Masako Tobaru's lighting. Bradley Lock's costumes and Matthew Aldwin McGee's puppet designs make for effective transitions from one story to the next, while Ryan Brodkin's sound design nicely balances the cast voices with Robyn Manion's six-piece instrumental ensemble, housed off-stage.

But the key to the success of the production rests with director Oanh Nguyen and choreographer Kelly Todd. It doesn't take long to realize that one is in such good hands with this pair. Just watching the fluidity of movement, the attention to detail of characterization, and the variety of stage pictures created is enough to demonstrate the care and thought that has gone into the production.

The actors respond to this care with dedication and more than a little pride. As Edward Bloom, Mr. Lowe has a lot to say and to sing. It's a load that seemed to tax him at times, at the performance I saw, but his character never faltered. The other principals, Mr. Price, Ms. Peña, and Laura M. Hathaway as Edward's wife Sandra, all provide well-measured support. I particularly admired how Mr. Price could exhibit frustration while not becoming ugly in the process.

In fact, basic human decency is on display no matter how fantastical the stories become. That decency carries the show and serves to smooth over any temptation to become maudlin (oh yes, things get emotional, especially toward the story's end). "Family values" may have become political code in some quarters, but they are truly on display in this musical delight for all.

Chance Theater's Big Fish, through July 29, 2018, at Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim CA. Performs Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are available by calling 888-455-4212 or by visiting chancetheater.com.

Ensemble members include Rachel Oliveros Catalano, Jason Brewer, Devin Collins, Matt Takahashi, Mandy Foster, John Carroll, Michael J. Isennock, Matt Bolden, Sydney DeMaria, and Lydia Margitza.




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