Brandon Joel Maier (right) stars in Lamb's Players Theatre's "Big Fish." Photo by Ken Jaques
Everything about Big Fish is, well, big: The number of characters. The number of costume changes. The number of songs in the musical score. The climax, which packs a big emotional punch. To some extent, Big Fish is too big for its theatrical britches, frolicking on and on long past when it probably should end. It’s an audacious affair, packing into one show high school cheerleaders, a giant who lives in the forest, a traveling circus, the Old West, a small-town flood, and the fraught relationship between a father and son. Yet Big Fish – served up for audiences in multiple mediums and multiple iterations – has won hearts. The 2013 stage musical written by John August, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, is based on the 1998 Daniel Wallace novel “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions” and a 2003 Tim Burton movie (written by August), which was very cool. Now we get at Lamb’s Players Theatre a leaner “12 Chairs” version of the musical, with half the size cast of the production that was mounted two years ago in Vista on Moonlight Amphitheatre’s larger stage, and some paring of narrative.
Besides the wondrous costume design of Jeanne Reith (to a significant extent, the star of this show), it’s Brandon Joel Maier in the lead role of Edward Bloom who buoys this Big Fish, directed by Deborah Gilmour Smyth. It’s Bloom’s signature songs (“Be the Hero,” “How It Ends”) soulfully rendered by Maier that rise above what can be at times silly in this tale of how a quirky dad’s fish stories alienate then ultimately endear him to his upwardly mobile son (Michael Cusimano), an expectant father himself.
Among the cast members playing multiple roles John Rosen has big fun whether as a solemn family doctor or a ringmaster/werewolf (not making that up, by the way). As Edward Bloom’s loving wife, Sandra, Kelsey Venter is as warm as her balladry. Cusimano is just fine as the principled son, too.
Two Big Fishes in two years is enough already for San Diego County theater audiences, however. It’s a good show – not a great show. For a story dealing in large part with our mortality, Big Fish on the stage is unashamedly and joyfully alive. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 7/5/17)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat