Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Wetumpka Depot: "Big Fish"

 Big Fish -- just say the title around these parts and get ready for a chorus of glowing sentiments about Daniel Wallace's novel, the popular film with an adapted script by John August, the recent HGTV program that transformed Wetumpka and featured the "Big Fish House", the Wetumpka High School production not long ago of the John August and Andrew Lippa musical version which is now being staged at the Wetumpka Depot to almost sold-out audiences.

Opening night's limited and [mostly] masked audience gave director Kristy Meanor's production an enthusiastic reception as the Depot returned to in-person shows. -- Her fluid minimalist set design had actors shifting its many moveable parts in full view. Daniel Harms' efficient choreography, along with Carol Heier's character-driven costumes and Thomas Rodman's evocative lighting, combined with energetic performances by the 17-member cast made for an enjoyable evening's entertainment.

Randy Foster's music direction was in full force, with the actors steadfastly singing along to a recorded soundtrack; they met the challenge, though the soundtrack itself occasionally overpowered some solo singing voices.

Though there are few surprises in this retelling of Big Fish, our enjoyment relies on the freshness of the production, and we fill in the missing pieces of the narrative [some of the set decorations help with this].

Essentially focused on a contentious father/son relationship, Big Fish centers on Edward Bloom [Chris Kelly] and his grown son Will [Gage Leifried] as the son tries to decipher the decades-long autobiographical stories his father weaves, with added romanticized embellishments that confuse the younger man who doesn't understand his father, something he needs to do before it's too late, and in order to pass on the heritage to his pregnant wife Josephine [Xandria Hataway] and his yet unborn son. 

And these stories include a Witch [Desirae Lewis] who has told Edward the truth about his death, a circus ringmaster named Amos [Cushing Phillips] who is also a werewolf, and a misunderstood giant named Karl [Jordan Berry]. Add Jenny [Kyndall Stoker] a lovestruck schoolmate, and a high school rival Don [Johntavious Osborne], and even a Mermaid [Kaitlyn Lawless] who shows up every once in a while, and Will's confusion is understandable.

While the Young Will [Shepherd Grier] bridges the past and the present, Edward's wife Sandra [Angela Dickson] is the rock of the family. The love of Edward's life from the time they first met, her steadfastness, and Dr. Bennet's [Michael Hall] diagnosis that Edward hasn't long to live, gently brings about the connection that both father and son have wanted for so long.

The actors in the featured roles do yeomen's work in telling the Big Fish story, and deliver some fine individual moments in song. -- While the "Ensemble" troupe play numerous other roles and develop some recognizable portraits, they often let loose with energy and volume that could be pulled back a bit to support rather than dominate the action.

All in all a solid production, Big Fish ought to complete its run on a high note that keeps its audiences entertained by its fresh approach.