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Spreckels stages swimmingly good 'Big Fish'


BEDTIME TALES Darryl Strohl-DeHerrera, left, spins a whopper - for Jordan Martin. - ERIC CHAZANKIN
  • Eric Chazankin
  • BEDTIME TALES Darryl Strohl-DeHerrera, left, spins a whopper for Jordan Martin.

After making a huge splash in May with The Little Mermaid, director Gene Abravaya is back in the water with Big Fish, a musical about tall tales—not, you know, tails. Big Fish, adapted from the 2003 Tim Burton movie and the 1998 Daniel Wallace novel that inspired it, is the kind of musical that evaporates in your mind almost as soon as it's over. But it's so sweet-natured and crammed with positivity, one can't help but walk away feeling good.

A recently married reporter named Will Bloom (Mark Bradbury, his face an open book of emotion), upon learning of his father's terminal illness, sets out to discover the real Edward Bloom. A travelling salesman with a knack for telling tall tales (in which he's always the hero), the elder Bloom (Darryl Strohl-DeHerrera, joyously playing a variety of ages from teenage to old age), has spent his life gleefully fabricating encounters with mermaids and giants, werewolves and witches. But why?

Will's mother Sandra (Heather Buck, also playing numerous ages) is clearly the love of Edward Bloom's life and the "plot motivation" for most of his outlandish stories. She encourages her son to get to know his father before it's too late. But that's hard to do when your dad can't answer a question without adding a detail about once seeing his own death in the crystal ball of a witch (Serena Elize Flores) or becoming an indentured servant to a lycanthropic circus ringmaster (Larry Williams). That Edward is hiding something is clear. But is his secret really what Will assumes it is?

The script by John August keeps things mostly grounded and focused, and the songs by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family) feature genuinely clever lyrics, though somewhat hampered by repetitive, oddly unmelodic music. Abravaya's staging makes ingenious use of Spreckels' acclaimed projection system, which provides much of the ever-shifting scenery, along with a number of nifty visual effects, including a man being shot from a cannon.

Told in a combination of flashback and present tense, Big Fish avoids some of the more outlandish elements from the film. Don't expect Siamese twins or the mysterious town of Specter. Of course, the best part of a story is the ending, and ultimately, this ambitious and satisfying production delivers a surprising climax. It might even inspire you to call up your own parents or children, to tell them you love them—and perhaps to share a story or two.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★★

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