Saturday, July 27, 2019

Wetumpka Depot & High School: "Big Fish"

In a largely successful collaboration between the Wetumpka Depot Players and the Wetumpka High Theatre Guild, the musical version of the fantasy-drama Big Fish has been playing to enthusiastic full houses at Wetumpka High School.

Based on Daniel Wallace's 1998 novel, it had a short Broadway run in 2013 starring Norbert Leo Butz in the role of Edward Bloom [Chris Kelly here], a man nearing the end of his life whose incredible biographical stories have bewildered his son Will [Michael Armstrong] who needs to resolve an estranged relationship with his father before it is too late.

Best known to local audiences from Tim Burton's 2003 film that was made almost entirely at locations around the River Region, this production of the John August and Andrew Lippa musical does not replicate the movie, though it retains the essences of the novel, and tells the story by switching between the present day and the young-Will's [Shep Grier] childhood.

This is an ambitious undertaking that is a bit uneven at times, though it succeeds on many levels: confident and inventive directing [Kristy Meanor], assured musical direction [Randy Foster], clever choreography [Daniel Grant Harms] that includes a rousing show-stopping tap dance number at the top of Act II, stunning production values (costumes, sets, props) overseen by Technical Director Jeff Glass, and a large cast of veterans and neophytes who tell a clear story and create memorable characters in a family-friendly excursion that celebrates life.

There are several songs that punctuate and comment on the action; among the memorable are the "Witch Sequence" with Desirae Lewis invigorating the eponymous role of the Witch, "Red, White and True" [that tap-dance number], "Stranger" sung by Mr. Armstrong, "Two Men in My Life" and "I Don't Need a Roof" performed with passionate commitment and effortless singing by Patty Holly as Edward's wife Sandra, and Mr. Kelly's omnipresent central character whenever he takes and commands the scene.

And, while the actors in the focus family are on point throughout, among the supporting roles of Karl the Giant [James Rigby], Ringmaster and sometime werewolf Amos [Cushing Phillips], Edward's nemesis Don Price [Damian Bowden], almost-girlfriend Jenny [Kari Kelly], and Will's intelligently patient and pregnant wife Josephine [Lizzy Woodall], there is a consistent and credible foundation to the story. -- And they are backed up by an energetic ensemble.

What holds this production together is the conflicted Father/Son relationship. Mr. Kelly's Edward is genuinely authentic in his commitment to family and love of storytelling [no matter how confusing his bending the truth can be to others], and Mr. Armstrong's passionate longing as Will to understand his Father leads eventually to an acceptance of one another and a celebration of the enduring love of family.