Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the Tim Burton film, the plot follows Edward and his adult son Will over a series of years with Will constantly doubting the farfetched stories his father has told him ever since he was a boy of events that happened to his father in his past. Through a series of flashbacks, including encounters with a mermaid, a giant, and even a werewolf, we relive the events of Edward's past, often questioning, like Will, their factualness. John August's imaginative book, which also focuses on Will trying to find the facts among the fables in his father's stories, is bright, though its flashback fantasy infused structure does take a few minutes to adjust to, and combines with Andrew Lippa's tuneful songs to effectively portray the events and characters with both humorous and dramatic results.
The Hale cast features a trio of leads who excel in their parts. Chad Campbell is sweet and compassionate and effectively walks the fine line between fact and fiction as Edward. He also pulls you into his stories with his assured line delivery and easily has you believing in the wild tales that Edward tells while at the same time slightly questioning their validity. Nicholas Gunnell beautifully portrays the uptight, pessimistic Will, injecting his portrayal with much conflicted emotion, while Laura Anne Kenney is radiant as Sandra Bloom, Edward's wife and Will's mother. Campbell's warm voice does well on his songs. Gunnell's soaring solo "Stranger" and Kenney's performance of "I Don't Need a Roof" are two highlights in how they are infused with love and emotion but so simply and perfectly staged by director Cambrian James that you can instantly identify with the lyrics and the feelings of these characters.
With a sweet and sincere yet also appropriately skeptical delivery of his dialogue that gets some big laughs, Charlie Hall is superb as Young Will. As Will's wife, Greta Perlmutter is tender and full of sincerity. Kasey Ray is charming and touching as the giant Karl. Ryan Jordan is very good as Jenny Hill, a secret woman from Edward's past, adding an element of mystery to the plot. Ashley Jackson is seductive, with a powerful voice, as the Witch, and Taylor Hudson is bright and funny as a man Edward meets who has a secretive life.
On Broadway the elaborate production tended to overpower the story (I believe that is why it had a very short run), while at Hale the intimacy of the space lets the sweet story stand firmly front and center. The quiet, emotional moments between Edward and Sandra, as well as the argumentative ones between Edward and Will, are perfectly directed and staged, and are infused with realism that help counter the fantasy sequences in the show. Hale's creative team (set designer Brian Daily, costume designer Mary Atkinson, and lighting designer Tim Dietlein) once again deliver beautiful and bright designs.
Big Fish is a comical yet emotionally rich musical that focuses on the important message of realizing that every person you meet is unique and that everyone can be the hero of their own story. That's a message that all of us can take to heart.
Big Fish, through June 30th, 2018, at The Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling 480-497-1181.
Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James