The 2013 musical Big Fish, which lasted less than four months on Broadway, has found new stages in regional theater, thanks to downsizing by John August, who adapted both the script for the Tim Burton film and the book for the stage (each of which is based on a novel by David Wallace). The current version of Big Fish, in which August and composer-lyricist, Andrew Lippa pared the cast down to 12 actors from the original 21, and the orchestra from 14 for the SpeakEasy Stage Company production, moves the poignant story of the disconnected father, Edward Bloom, and his skeptical son, Will, closer to the audience.
The plot winds backward from the deathbed of Edward (Steven Goldstein), a traveling salesman who found adventures with the characters he met while the road. It's hard to tell whether Edward truly encountered the mermaid and the witch, as he claims. However, his brave heart and willingness to help the people he found along his way are never in doubt, except by his son Will (convincingly played and sung by Sam Simahk). Part Don Quixote, part Willy Loman, Edward is continually searching for ways to give meaning to an ordinary life, thinking he needs to act like a hero so his son will admire him. However, the pragmatic Will seeks the man behind the tall tales that he heard as a child.
Director Paul Daigneault is a master at plumbing big Broadway spectacles for their emotional values. Here he has dug deep for the human qualities of the story, putting the focus squarely on Edward, and needing little more than the zest of the ensemble to frame the trajectory of Edward's life.
Goldstein portrays Edward perfectly. He sings like a dream, kicking up his heels for the "Alabama Stomp," which brings the big fish of the title from the sky, and touches the audience's heart. He is matched in performance quality and voice by Aimee Doherty, who is cast as his wife and the love of his life. The chemistry between the two actors sizzles from the moment they lay eyes on each other as teenagers. They also plausibly make the audience believe that they age at least 30 years over the course of the show.
Under the musical direction of Matthew Stern, the blended voices of the ensemble are studded by memorable performances from Will M. Garrahan, who plays the supporting roles of the charming scoundrel directing the circus, Amos Callaway, and the dignified Dr. Bennett. Also of note are Aubin Wise as an extravagant, dancing Witch with the power to foretell the future, and the towering Lee David Skunes on stilts as the friendly, deep-voiced Giant. Jackson Daley is fine as young Will.
Though Lippa's score contains few memorable songs, it is enough that it manages to serve the story. The creative team of August, Lippa, and Daigneault have extended the life of Big Fish beyond Broadway into the regional theaters of America with a family-friendly show about our rural past, enhanced by the magical creatures of Edward’s imagination.