AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Book by John August
Directed by Patrick Klein
Presented by Palo Alto Players
Lucie Stern Theater
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto / (650) 329-0891

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"Big Fish" is the ultimately touching musical story of a father-son relationship.

Presented by Palo Alto Players in its West Coast premiere, it tells the story of Edward Bloom (Chris Janssen) and his son, Will (Danny Martin). Ever since Will was a little boy (Nic Roy Garcia), Edward has told fanciful tales about his adventures with a witch, a mermaid, a giant, a would-be assassin and others.

Now an adult and expecting a son of his own, Will wants to separate fact from fiction. This desire becomes more acute when Edward becomes terminally ill.

In going through his father's papers, Will and his wife, Josephine (Jennifer Gregoire), discover a secret aspect of Edward's life. Will goes back to Edward's hometown, Ashton, Ala., to unearth the truth and comes to understand his father as never before.

Directed by artistic director Patrick Klein, the PAP production moves smoothly through its two acts (one intermission) thanks to the fluid set by Klein and projections by Nick Kumamoto. Sometimes fanciful costumes by Lisa Lutkenhouse Lowe add to the enjoyment. (The elephant is priceless.)

Good acting is a hallmark throughout the cast, especially Janssen and Martin as father and son and by Elizabeth Santana as Edward's loving wife, Sandra. The large ensemble plays multiple roles with Vic Prosak standing out as Dr. Bennett and others.

Based on a novel by Daniel Wallace, the book by John August comes from the latter's screenplay for Tim Burton's movie of the same name. The music by Andrew Lippa, who also wrote the lyrics, is pleasant and helps to propel the story.

However, the musical aspects of this production sometimes fall short, starting with the orchestra led by musical director Matthew Mattei from the keyboard. Intonation problems and sour notes from the orchestra pit are too frequent, or at least they were on opening night.

Likewise, singing by a few of the performers is out of tune, as if they were chosen more for their acting than their singing. The most important exceptions are Janssen as Edward, Santana as Sandra, Gregoire as Josephine and Jessica Whittemore as Jenny Hill, Edward's high school girlfriend.

Choreography by Jennifer Gorgulho sometimes lacks precision in the ensemble.

Despite these shortcomings, the overall performance is enjoyable because of the story. It's a refreshing change from the darker themes seen in some contemporary musicals.

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