So, let me admit up front that for personal reasons, I really enjoy the Tim Burton film on a very basic, emotional level. So when I saw that “Big Fish” was going to be the musical production at the school this year, I was intrigued. The college production was, of course, much more limited than a Broadway production, but the staging was nice and the singing was excellent (because that is what the college does well). I wasn’t sure how they were going to do all the effects of the film, but given the tone of the movie, I could see it working as a musical.
The basic plot is as follows: a serious young man (Will Bloom) who is starting a new point in his life (marriage and baby) has a tense relationship with his father (Edward Bloom), a Southern charmer and boaster who likes to embellish his life’s stories. When Edward is found terminally ill, Will tries to find out who the man is behind the myths. This leads him to find a cosigned lease with another woman, and thinking that Edward has been leading a double life and cheating on his mother, Will confronts the other woman. Will ends up being wrong and starts to realize the more honorable reasons behind his father’s lies. As his father dies, Will spins a myth for him, and at the funeral, Will finally meets some of the more colorful characters from Edward’s life. Inspired, Will is to have a healthy relationship with his own son.
I cry like a baby by the end inevitably, but the question is, what did the musical really add? The songs are listed below, and for the most part, the music was okay. I really like the “Be the Hero”/”Fight the Dragons” combination. Those songs had a lot of heart, as they really push on the father/son dynamic that drives the film (that it easily transferred to any generational relationship, I think). The other songs…hit or miss. I really liked the characters. I think the school did particularly well with the casting of Karl, Edward, and Calloway. A singing werewolf is not easy to pull off! Which brings me to my concern that sometimes the already whacky storyline plus the musical aspect just went too far into the ridiculous. I felt that particularly with “Showdown.” I was laughing, but I wasn’t sure if I was laughing with the play or at it.
Still, I think the story was served well, the characters were charming, and the staging (especially for a college production) was very well done. I couldn’t handle “The Little Lamb from Alabama,” though. It reminded me too much of this scene from Aristophanes’ “Acharnians” that is really uncomfortable. I think the songs with Sandra are a little too serious for the tone of the overall play. I adore Karl and “Start Over”–I think that song is another good example of the clever nature that the play does best.