‘Big Fish’ in a Small Theater: A Review of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Performance of ‘Big Fish’

Elizabith Costey ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Lee David Skunes, Steven Goldstein, and the company in SpeakEasy Stage’s “Big Fish.’’ Photo Credit: Boston Globe
Lee David Skunes, Steven Goldstein, and the company in SpeakEasy Stage’s Big Fish. Photo Credit: Boston Globe

To those who have read the book, to those who have seen the movie, and to those who have done neither: if ever presented with the opportunity to see the Big Fish musical, take it. Based off the book written by Daniel Wallace and the Columbia Motion Picture written by John August, Big Fish is an imaginative and heartfelt tale about the relationship between a father and his son. Without a doubt one of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s best plays of the season, the theater company pulls out all the stops for this musical. From the lighting and scene design to the cast and score, this musical makes audience members laugh, cry, and wonder.

The curtains open and the audience peers at the stage as the orchestra warms up. The stage itself is of simple design. No platforms or elegant staircases, but above the stage ripple long, thick strips of fabric which hang from the ceiling and loop around a rod, making the fabric into a rolling shape like a wave. The lights reflect over the curtains like water, changing the color of the fabric from light blue to pale green, to yellow, to white. Around the border of the stage is an impressive wooden frame, painted in blues, greens, and purples with hints of yellows and oranges. Combined, the lighting and scenic design leave no question as to the theme of the musical. Everywhere the audience looks they behold the influence of a river, teeming with life and movement.

Covered in chairs, ladders, and blocks of all shapes and sizes, the stage waits for the musical to begin.  And then the orchestra starts to play, soft and alluring. Characters march onto the stage and each pause once they reach their chair. Just pause. And then they are gone again, taking their chairs with them as Edward Bloom, played by Steven Goldstein, and his son Will, played by Sam Simahk, take center stage.

Steven Goldstein and Aimee Doherty SpeakEasy Stage's Big Fish. Photo Credit: TheaterMania
Steven Goldstein and Aimee Doherty SpeakEasy Stage’s Big Fish. Photo Credit: TheaterMania

Will and his father, Edward Bloom, have never really seen eye-to-eye, as Edward has a taste for the fantastical and Will has a taste for the pragmatic. The story leaps from the present day, to Will’s childhood, to the distant and rather exaggerated past from Edward’s youth, and then back again to the present. These constant leaps both forward and backward in time make for a quick pace and a lively story. Though Big Fish begins in the present, just before Will’s wedding with Josephine, the plot takes the audience almost immediately back to Will’s youth, then back even further to Edward’s youth and his encounter with a witch who showed Edward his destiny, right down to his death. The audience is carried everywhere, including the swamps; the tiny town of Ashton, Alabama, Edward Bloom’s hometown; the circus; Auburn University; and just about anywhere else Edward Bloom’s tall tales can take them. In the present day the audience watches as Will marries Josephine, played by Katie Clark, and comes to terms with the idea of becoming a father himself. During this same scene the audience watches as Edward and his wife Sandra, played by Aimee Doherty, discover that Edward does not have long to live. Although this misfortune brings father and son together, it certainly does not resolve the issues between them. Only as Will digs deeper and deeper into his father’s tall stories does he begin to understand his father, and even parts of himself.

A big part of this production is, of course, the music. Actors belt out impressive note after impressive note, never missing a beat. Perhaps most impressive is Ms. Aubin Wise, the Witch, whose voice is exceedingly impressive in the song “The Witch.” However, while the songs are fun and the singing is fantastic, the music doesn’t quite live up to the infamous quirky, mythical, or even southerly nature reflected throughout Big Fish. The lyrics from many songs, including “Alabama Stomp” and “Slay the Dragons” are very catchy and befitting, but there is almost something lacking in the sound. Not enough ‘quirk’ perhaps? Not enough energy? Who can tell what it is, but there is just something missing from the musical side of this musical, however brilliant the voices and catchy the lyrics.

In the last scene of Big Fish, Will revisits the song, “Be the Hero,” which his father once sang to him. Only this time, Will is singing to his son. Thus the story comes full circle, ending with the unique relationship between a father and a son and between tall tales and truth. Because, as Edward Bloom suggests, there is no such thing as one singular truth. There is only what you love and what you believe.

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