Review: ‘Big Fish’ at The Keegan Theatre

Family-friendly musicals are relatively rare these days. Family-friendly musicals that have adult themes are even rarer.

Ricky Drummond, Emily Madden, Allie O’ Donnell, Patrick M Doneghy, Erik Peyton, Dan Van Why, Courtney Moran, Katie McManus. Photo by Cameron Whitman.

Big Fish, with book by John August and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, is a rare bird indeed.

T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock “heard the mermaids singing, each to each,” but he didn’t think that they would sing to him. This musical’s lead, on the other hand, knows that they sing to him.

So if you are looking for a feel-good show, with great voices and stimulating dance, then Big Fish is for you.

Leading the choir is Dan Van Why, playing Edward Bloom, a different kind of traveling salesman: the kind who loves his job and dreams big.

Katie McManus, Courtney Moran, Eleanor J Todd, Emily Madden, Eitan Mazia. Photo by Cameron Whitman.

Bloom delivers a stellar performance, capturing both the character’s earthy personality and his creative flare. His strong clear voice, in songs like “Be the Hero” and “How it Ends,” is a definite plus.

His son, the journalist Will Bloom, is played by Ricky Drummond. His strong tenor voice gives clarity to the character’s angst in “Stranger” and in the duet that he has with Edward, “This River Between Us.”

The woman who holds this estranged father/son relationship together is Sandra Bloom, played with deep affection by Eleanor Todd. Her scene with Edward at the end of Act 1 is fabulous, which ends with the lovely “Daffodils.”

Directed by Mark A. Rhea and Colin Smith, with Musical Direction by Jake Null and Choreography by Rachel Leigh Dolan, the beauty of Big Fish lies clearly in the musical spectacle.

Organized around the tension between storytelling and journalism, with Daddy Edward being the professor of fish tales and Son Will being the lover of facts, the musical’s scenes don’t so much lay out a meaningful plot as they do a series of vignettes that capture either thematic elements or essential moments in the characters’ lives.

And the performance ensemble does a fantastic job bringing each of those moments to life.

Rick Westerkamp does wonders with the wacky Zacky Price. His singing and dancing fill the stage with presence.

The same is true of Katie McManus’ Witch. In fact, when the coven of witches appears near the top of the show, costumed in visually electrifying black wings by Costume Designer Deb Sigvigny, the audience watches their sinuous choreography in awe.

Another one of the Tall Tale vignettes deals with a Traveling Circus, run by a Werewolf named Amos Calloway. Patrick M. Doneghy does a superb job embodying this honestly conning businessman.

Dan Van Why, Emily Madden. Photo by Cameron Whitman.

He’s in the midst of auditioning circus acts and that’s when one of the highlights of the play takes place: the Little Lambs from Alabama, led by the previously mentioned Ms. Todd and accompanied by Courtney Moran and Emily Madden. This trio’s exuberant rendition of “Little Lambs from Alabama” not only wins over Edward’s heart but that of the entire audience. Cute beyond Saccharin, the choreography couldn’t be crisper, or juicier.

Rounding out the cast are the feisty Eitan Mazia as Don Price, the sensible Allie O’Donnell as Will’s wife Josephine, Erik Peyton as the adorable young Will, Grant Saunders as the astute (and tall) Karl, and ensemble member Molly Rumberger.

With sets by Matthew Keenan and lighting by Allan Weeks, Big Fish‘s scenography highlights the video projection by Patrick Lord. From magical forest to mystical river, the imagery takes the audience to a world beyond the stage.

All the elements might not always sync up in this highly stylized concept of a show, but the intent is clear: big stories like big fish might not always end happily, but that doesn’t mean they don’t end with joy.

Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Big Fish has now been extended through September 9, 2017, at Keegan Theatre—1742 Church Street NW, Washington, D.C. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 265-3767, or purchase them online.


Magic Time!: ‘Big Fish’ at The Keegan Theatre by John Stoltenberg


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