Big Fish: The Musical. One Dad’s Perspective after Opening Night
by Todd Query
Director and award-winning Theatre Teacher at Jamestown High School, J. Harvey Stone took on an ambitious project this year when he decided to produce the Broadway Musical adaptation of Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions. In Stone’s own words, “in the history of musical theatre, Big Fish is known as a ‘flop’ [because] it ran for just 98 performances” during its first—and only—engagement in New York. But while Big Fish may not have been a commercial success, I would encourage you to do everything in your power to see one of the remaining JHS performances. (review continues below the video from Jamestown HS Theater twitter feed – so don’t stop reading!)
Opening Night of Big Fish was so awesome! #bethehero Come see us this weekend. Tickets available at 7572593644 https://t.co/IhAhcBDJbE THANKS @lippaofficial @johnaugust @TRWMusicals @NorbertLButz @RealKateBaldwin pic.twitter.com/eUffGi8nvo
— Jamestown HS Theatre (@jamestowndrama) April 13, 2018
At its core, Big Fish is a story about relationships. More specifically, it’s about family relationships. But even more specifically, Big Fish tells the story of the complicated relationship between father and son. Hailing from the small town of Ashton, Alabama, Edward Bloom (Jack Cherry) is larger than life itself. His only son, Will, is an intelligent boy (Noah Harmon) who grows skeptical of his father’s “big fish” accounts of his adventures as a traveling salesman. The story opens as Will—now a man (Jacob Oman)—is preparing to be married, and having grown weary of his father’s stories, informs Edward that he and his fiancé, Josephine (Peyton Herndon), want Edward to refrain from telling any of his stories…or jokes…or anecdotes….at the wedding. Soon after the wedding, as Will and Josephine celebrate the impending birth of their first child, word gets to Will that Edward is terminally ill.
The rest of Big Fish revolves around Will’s struggle to get to know the man who has always felt like a stranger to him. And the audience is treated to a steady parade of Edward’s best stories that are as musical and colorful as the man who told them. The talented ensemble cast brings a series of fantastical images to life, flashing back over Edward’s life in production numbers that include reclusive giants, beautiful mermaids, mysterious witches, and even the traveling circus, as the viewer gets to know Edward through Will and Josephine’s eyes.
Where Big Fish really excels is in conveying the very real tension between father and son. And the effects it has on a mother, Sandra (Belle Long) who is caught between them…loving them both, even as they butt heads and push each other away. You will be forgiven if you forget—even for a moment—that you are watching 16- and 17-year olds portraying 30- and 70-somethings, as they delve into complex issues like what motivates a father to act the way he does, and the way men communicate to each other.
Big Fish may not delight everyone. But yet, it is a story for everyone. On one hand, the story isn’t linear—it flashes backwards and forwards as it covers Edward’s lifetime from high school to old age. But on the other hand, whose life follows a linear trajectory? On one hand, Big Fish deals with complicated, but realistic, themes, including aging parents, terminal illness, and betrayal (perceived or otherwise). But on the other hand, those things happen in real life, and to pretend otherwise would be dishonest. I believe Big Fish may have “flopped” in New York simply because it was ahead of its time. It doesn’t rely on giant puppets, or glitzy special effects or a well-known star/director/producer. Instead, it uses traditional theatre devices to tell the story of one man: a proverbial “big fish in a small pond.” In the end, Big Fish is a musical-theatre triumph; one of those shows that, in this reviewer’s opinion, makes a much better musical than it does a movie. The acting, vocal, and technical work by this cast and crew is superb; regardless of what you may think you know about teenagers. Even the pit band—yes, it’s live music—is under the direction of a Jamestown High School Senior (Andrew Shield).
Big Fish is a great show for a Father/Son “night out,” but it’s equally accessible to this generation’s mothers and daughters. Younger children will be spellbound by the movement and colorful pageantry of Edward’s stories as told in the ensemble production numbers, and the story may generate questions and meaningful discussion in older children. Again, in Director Stone’s own words, Big Fish “is full of simple, profound truths about family, fantasy, potential, inspiration and connection.” And we could all do with more of that.
Big Fish is showing Friday and Saturday at 7 pm, with a Saturday matinee at 2 pm. General admission tickets are $10 at the door. The Jamestown High School Theater is located at 3751 John Tyler Hwy, Williamsburg, VA 23185.
Todd Query is a dad of a sword swallowing performer in Big Fish and an avid supporter of WJCC Public Schools Theater programs.