The tall tales told by an amiable father to his son in “Big Fish” provided a lot of creative material for director Tim Burton in his 2003 film adaptation of Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel, and the 2013 Broadway musical version of this story likewise has an abundance of eccentric Alabama small-town residents, as well as a witch, a giant, a dragon, a mermaid and more.
It’s therefore no surprise that the Silhouette Stages production populates the stage at Slayton House Theatre with enough whimsical characters to make you smile; and the production also knows how to erase that smile as the story heads into more somber, mortality-themed issues.
Although this show’s music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and its book by John August sometimes feel like showbiz-manufactured sentiment, the stretches of cliched dialogue and slickly contrived fantasy are offset by genuine sentiment that makes the laughter-mixed-with-tears storyline work.
The teller of all those tall tales, Edward Bloom (Luis’ “Matty” Montes), has such an aw shucks personality that you’re glad to go along with his seemingly fantastic stories; and that genial nature makes it all the easier to extend that sense of good will to his ever-supportive wife, Sandra (Emily Mudd), and their son, Will (Michael Nugent). It’s notable that Will is a young square by comparison with his quirky dad.
From a casting perspective, one of the trickier aspects of telling the tale of “Big Fish” is that the time-hopping narrative requires making just the right choice in the lead role of Edward. This was not a major worry in the Tim Burton film version, because it was blessed to have Ewan McGregor play Edward as a young man and Albert Finney play Edward as an old man. However, the stage version mandates that the same actor play Edward at all ages. Himself a young actor, Montes is fine playing Edward as a young man, but is never entirely convincing playing him as an older man. This makes the scenes between the aging Edward and his young adult son Will seem rather odd, because Montes and Nugent appear to be very close in age.
It’s not a similar concern in the stage version for casting the role of Will, because a child actor, Samuel Greenslit, plays Young Will in the scenes that transpire early in the Bloom family saga.
Also transpiring in a plausible fashion are the scenes involving the young adult Will and his fiancee, Josephine (Missy Spangler), whose love for each other is destined to, er, bloom. A new marriage and the promise of children ensure that “Big Fish” will retain an essential optimism even as illness and death eventually factor into the plot.
That life-affirming quality really comes through in the perky Silhouette Stages production directed by T.J. Lukacsina and choreographed by Rikki Lacewell. It’s to their credit that the large cast of often-unusual characters is able to move smoothly through the mostly short scenes and also, of course, move through time as Edward relates many tall tales to his son.
Also, the Silhouette Stages performers make the most of a country music-style score that’s agreeable if less than inspired. Montes is confident singing such numbers as “Be the Hero,” Mudd really conveys Sandra’s devotion in the roof-raising “I Don’t Need a Roof,” and both performers affirm the romantic attachment between the Blooms in “Time Stops” and the florally inevitable “Daffodils.” Nugent and others in the cast likewise have their share of heartfelt vocal moments.
What truly makes this staging of the musical come alive, though, is the near-orchestral sound that music director and pianist Michael Tan and five other musicians achieve. It’s nice that this on-stage band has been incorporated within the rustic, wood slat-constructed set design, but a little odd that the band is stretched out in a thin line across the width of the stage. Of course, this unconventional configuration of the band does not qualify as weird within the context of a musical in which they’re playing behind a witch, a mermaid and a literal circus ensemble.