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Review – “Big Fish” @ Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park – by Harry Duke

thumb_2_Jordan Martin--Darryl Strohl-De Herra-650.jpg

Review – “Big Fish” @ Spreckels Performing Arts Center

Review by Harry Duke

American musicals have long plumbed the father/daughter relationship and often struck theatrical gold (Fiddler on the RoofAnnieThe Little Mermaid, etc.) – not so much when it comes to fathers and sons. Oh, sure, there are plenty of dramas, but you can count the number of American musicals with a father/son relationship at their core on one hand and have plenty of fingers left over. One such show is Andrew Lippa’Big Fish, with a book by John August based on his screenplay for the 2003 Tim Burton film adaptation of Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel, which is currently being energetically staged in Rohnert Park by the Spreckels Theatre Company.

It’s the story of Will Bloom (Mark Bradbury), who’s spent his life listening to the tall tales told by his father Edward (Darryl Strohl-De Herrera) as explanations for the twists and turns in their family’s life. Will is about to marry the love of his life (Katee Drysdale) and seeks the truth behind all the preposterous stories with the hope of really getting to know his father – before it’s too late and before he, himself becomes a father.

The Witch, Serena Elize FloresThe show switches between reality and fantasy, as Edward’s many tales come to life on the Spreckels stage. A witch (Serena Elize Flores), a giant (Bobby Finney), and a circus ringmaster with a secret (Larry Williams) all play pivotal roles as we follow Edward from adolescence and a high school sweetheart (Shawna Eiermann) to military service and the pursuit of the love of his life (Heather Buck). Mermaids, flying fish, dancing trees and masked assassins also make appearances. Can the truth about Edward be found in the stories he tells? Or do the stories hide the truth? Suffice it to say, all will be revealed by curtain call.

There’s a lot to like in director Gene Abravaya’s take on this show. Strohl-De Herrera has played the role of Edward before, and is quite effective in playing him from youth to… well, you know. Bradbury plays off him well as Will, as it is evident early on that it’s going to be a battle between two strong-willed men. Along with the usual fine work of some North Bay regulars, Abravaya gives some fairly new faces a chance to stand out among the large cast of supporting players include Nathaniel Mercier, who’s got the high school jock/loutish thug part down pat as young Edward’s nemesis Will Price and Ms. Eiermann, who shows nice character range as Bouncy High School Sweetheart/Embittered Girl Left Behind Jenny Hill. Veteran Serena Elize Flores nails it as The Witch in one of the show’s most effective musical numbers.

Nathaniel Mercier and Shawna Eiermann

Ah, the music. For a show whose fantastical story elements provide so much potential, and whose potential is realized via Pamela Enz’s inventive and luminous costuming, Michella Snider’s vibrant choreography, Abravaya’s vivid and often amusing projections, Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bazzano’s imaginative set and lighting design, and with a cast that is ready, willing and able to deliver, it’s a damn shame that Lippa’s score is as unremarkable as it is. It’s not a knock on Musical Director Lucas Sherman and his 10-piece orchestra (or the cast) to say they did the best they could with what they had, but Lippa doesn’t give them much. The tunes are pleasant enough, and they serve the plot, but there’s nothing the least bit dynamic or memorable about them. It's a rare case where the book of a musical outshines the score. While the visuals accompanying the songs and the characters delivering them linger in the mind, the songs themselves are almost instantly forgotten once their last notes are hit.

The same cannot be said for the multi-hued characters who populate Edward Bloom’s imagination and the performers who bring them to life. Musical flaws aside, Big Fish is a sweet, sentimental and beguiling look at fathers and sons and the struggle for mutual understanding that will be recognized by many. You may not leave the theatre humming a tune, but you’ll probably leave smiling and a little wistful.

Big Fish
Presented by The Spreckels Theatre Company  

through August 28

Fri/Sat @ 8pm, Sun@ 2pm, Thurs, Aug 25 @ 7:30pm

Spreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
(707) 588-3400

www.spreckelsonline.com

Photos by Eric Chazankin


 

SONOMA COUNTY LIVE THEATER REVIEW BY HARRY DUKE

Sonoma County Live Theater Review by Harry Duke