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Big Fish

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Big Fish, based on the book and subsequent motion picture by Daniel Wallace, is a musical fantasy. Unfortunately the biggest fantasy is that this is a great musical. It is, in fact, a fish out of water.

Virtually every professional New York review of the musical, when it premiered in 2013, ripped it apart. A key to the problem is Andrew Lippa’s thoroughly mediocre score. Here is a sample:

Big Fish fails to forge the crucial connection between its characters and their fantasies. Not once did I feel that what I was seeing had been spawned by the teeming mind of Edward Bloom.” (New York Times)

“It's crushing to realize, early on, that this gentle, sincere, beautiful-looking show is deadly dull.” (Newsday)

“Where Big Fish gets stuck in the shallows is with its score, by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family). A brash musical demands you leave the theater wanting to buy the cast recording, or at least humming a song. Big Fish doesn’t. Similarly, the book by John August (the film’s screenwriter) crams in so many characters and subplots from the source material that most of the roles remain one-dimensional.” (NBC New York)

“The show is a pulseless bore. Apart from a choice hook or two, the score is stillborn, the lyrics so inert they’re tautological. The whole show waits on the music to move it; the music stubbornly refuses. It’s two and a half hours of near deadlock.”  (New York Magazine) 

Girwarr and Tanner in a tender love sceneGirwarr and Tanner in a tender love sceneThe musical is indeed a curious choice for Slow Burn Theatre to premiere their excellent productions at the Broward Center. Director Patrick Fitzwater, in his opening remarks on this major venue change for Slow Burn, said it felt like “a wedding, an anniversary and a birthday all in one night. This is the biggest show I’ve ever put on in my whole life.”

With a cast of more than 20, and some visually enchanting numbers, the smaller venue of the Amaturo Theatre at the Broward Centre was the perfect size for it, and the Slow Burn cast was welcomed by a near capacity audience.

All the performers hail from Florida, and special mention must be made of the lead performers and excellent vocals of Shane Tanner as the father Edward Bloom, Justen Fox-Hall as his son Will, and the beautiful voice of Ann Marie Olson as Edward’s wife. The actress playing Will’s wife was miscast. She was supposedly an experienced newscaster, but her persona was too childish for that. On the other hand Christopher Mitchell, who performed much of the play on stilts in his giant role, was a delight.

While the use of analogies and metaphor by Edward to let his son know what happened in his life is intriguing, it was not enough to keep such a long production from floundering, to use one of the many fish metaphors in the musical. The love story between Edward and his wife is actually the best part of the musical, and the actors do great justice to it. A better score and 30 minutes less is what is needed, but for anyone looking to a family night out, this is entertainment that can be enjoyed by all ages.

Big Fish runs thru Nov. 8, 2015.


Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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