There's very little that's wrong with Musical Theatre West's production of Big Fish, making its L.A. premiere in Long Beach. And yet the effect is that of a whole that's lesser than the sum of its parts. But the fault doesn't lie with the cast or creative team so much as with the material from which they're working.
Big Fish hits all the right notes of an early 21st-century musical: a pretty score by a respected composer (Andrew Lippa), a somewhat successful movie (Tim Burton's 2003 film of the same name, which was, in turn, based on a novel by Daniel Wallace) as source material, a solid book (by screenwriter John August), and beautiful costumes (by William Ivey Long). But the experience is never elevated into anything truly special.
The story follows Edward Bloom (Jeff Skowron), a man who loves telling tall tales to anyone who will listen — including his skeptical son, Will (Andrew Huber) and Will's fiancee, Josephine. The story jumps around, recounting how Edward met and courted his wife, Sandra (Rebecca Johnson), and settled into adult life, while Will tries to find the facts about Edward's life among the fables he's been told since he was a young child (played by Jude Mason).
The cast acquits themselves respectably under the direction of Larry Carpenter. The overall effect is reminiscent of a national tour of the Broadway version of the show — both the sets and costumes came from the New York production, and Carpenter's direction hits the same notes as Susan Stroman's work on the original, which played on Broadway for only four months last winter.
Despite the alarmingly flat sound design, the show has a few touching moments, particularly near the end of the second act. But Big Fish commits the unfortunate sin of being unremarkable. The show as a whole is a lot like Lippa's score; it's pleasant enough to listen to, but it doesn't have a single earworm, not one song that you'll leave the theater humming to yourself.
That might be forgivable if Big Fish were otherwise affecting in some way, such as providing a new perspective on an old issue, but the message of show is tried and true: love your family. It doesn't add any insight to the concepts Our Town repeated ad nauseam 75 years ago (and in any of its hundreds of annual productions since). It'll do if you're looking to see a musical, any musical, but it seems that Musical Theatre West's time, talent and money would be better spent on a new take on a better show.
Musical Theatre West at Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach; Through November 16. (562) 856-1999 x4, musical.org.
Correction: This review originally had the wrong name for the actor who plays Will, Andrew Huber. It also originally stated that this production is the West Coast premiere, but it actually performed in Palo Alto, so this is the L.A. premiere. We regret the error.
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