I don't often review college productions. The grandmother of one of the actors in Pepperdine's production of John August and Andrew Lippa's Big Fish: the Musical is a dear friend. It was an opportunity to see old pals and to see a show I had a great curiosity about.
How could Tim Burton's film "Big Fish" written by John August, who also wrote the script for this musical, translate all of the amazing effects onto the stage. The biggest surprise. literally, is Karl. You may remember him as the giant whom the residents of Ashton, Alabama were ready to take up torches and pitch forks against. Played by Noah Archibald, Karl towers over the rest of the cast in excess of eight feet in height!
Taken from Daniel Wallace's book, "Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions" and made into a wonderful film in 2003 by director Tim Burton using August's script, with Mr. Lippa pushes the envelope by creating a musical that takes elements of both the original book and the movie to create two acts with pathos and love. Emphasis on Love.
The Smothers' Theatre on the Pepperdine Campus sits on a gorgeous campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Malibu. It feels expensive because there's a lot of dough here. Appropriately, this production, creatively realized with Cathy Thomas-Grant's sharp direction; exquisite scenic design by DT Willis, it all works. The show has major over tones of a full on Broadway production. A live orchestra sits in full view stage left. Cast, orchestra, all: these kids nailed it.
The basic plot delivers us into the lives of Edward Bloom (Evatt Salinger) and his often over the top and fantastical stories. His son, Will (toe headed Ryan Robinson age seven and later as an adult Angelo Silva) absorbs his gusto and exaggerated version of the truth at face value as a child and later with some embarrassment as a grown man about to be married. The beauty of Bloom's character is that his loving and lovable outlook permeates everyone who meets him.
As Edward's wife, Sandra, Audry McKee shines, especially with I Don't Need a Roof.
As Jenny, Natalie Leonard, Edward's teen love, shows both strong voice and strength of character.
One can't help but think of the Burton film as the show unfolds. The lesson of love and joy and a little larceny shared by Amos Callaway of the Calloway Circus (Fernando Grimaldo) reminds us that "Secrets are the backbone of society!" as he employs Edward for years.
Outstanding moments include the introduction of Kate Klimist as the Witch who predicts Edward's death and shines with "I Know What You Want!" Sandra and the Alabama Lambs rock in their audition for the circus.
Heaping praise on a show built on the idea of peace and love and reason is easy. That these college kids spark to the text and are totally professional with the music is a tribute to a program that Pepperdine should be very proud of. I collected one autograph after the show, with the idea that it will be famous not long after this actor graduates.
BIG FISH: THE MUSICAL
The Luciene and Daniel Forge Fall Musical
Book by John August
Music/lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Smothers Theatre on the
Pepperdine University Campus
24255 Pacific Coast Hwy
Malibu, CA 90263
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30
Sunday at 2PM
Closes Sunday, November 19, 2017
Tickets and information:
310 506 4522