Back to show

Marriott’s folky, unsuspecting ‘Big Fish’ sneaks up and snags you

Q: What do you get when you cross a hippo, elephant and rhino?

A: Hell if I know.

Even if you’ve heard this dad joke many times over, Alexander Gemignani has ‘em rolling up in Lincolnshire at Marriott Theatre’s production of Big Fish.

In part, it’s the veteran actor’s delivery, but it’s more a testament to a calmingly affective production. Like a welcome folk album to soothe the cacophony of winter 2023’s angsty soundtrack, this understated, not oft-produced, Henry Godinez-directed gem is a warm cup of cocoa reminding everyone in the room that consciously doing the best one can results in lives well lived. Quoth Clarence Odbody: “No man is a failure who has friends.”

With a book by John August (based on his screenplay for Tim Burton’s adaptation of Daniel Wallace’s novel) and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, Big Fish twists two timelines to share a poignant father-son relationship tale. In present-day Alabama, 60-year-old Edward faces his mortality as adult son Will faces fatherhood. Looking back on his own past, Will suspects Edward’s yarns—including encounters with a witch, a giant, a mermaid—were deflections, all lacking a speck of truth. Will seeks to uncover his patriarch’s hidden secrets, not knowing they would lead to a new, soulful, and revelatory philosophy of life.

Starring alongside Gemigani in the current local production is the fabulous Heidi Kettenring as Edward’s wife/Will’s mom, Sandra Bloom. Dulcet-voiced Michael Kurowski plays adult Will Bloom, and his wife Josephine is portrayed by the ebullient Lydia Burke. These four do much of the heavy lifting with Lippa’s lovely songbook. (Terrific music direction by the ever-reliable Ryan T. Nelson.) Kettenring is delightful with the best ballads, “Magic in the Man” and “I Don’t Need a Roof.” Her duet with Gemigani, “Daffodils,” closes Act One with lovely imagery. “How It Ends” and “Be the Hero” are poignant and wonderful songs.

The leading performances are well-enhanced with an intimate ensemble that advances the production’s purposeful understatement. Particular standouts include Allison Sill as Edward’s high school crush Jenny Hill, Brandon Dahlquist as the obnoxious jock Don Price, Lucy Godinez as the witch and Jonah D. Winston as the giant.

It's certainly understandable why Big Fish doesn’t appear on most musical theatre aficionados top-ten list. That’s not a putdown. There aren’t big dance or major production numbers. And while the Broadway cast had A-one, talent, its 2013 run was underwhelming.

Yet it may just be its underwhelmingness that makes Big Fish a big deal in the hearts of those lucky enough to take it in. If by believing that human beings have control over their endings and this understanding allows them to live more mindful, meaningful middles, well, can a theatregoer really ask for more than that?

I know exactly how this ends.

It ends with you

It ends with me

It ends the way a story's ending is supposed to be…

It all ends well,

This much, I know.