Not too often can you honestly say that a smaller independent production of a musical is undeniably better than a full-scale Broadway production, but Big Fish at the Hayes Theatre has surely got to be one of those times. The signature intimate theatre and the sincerity of the performances gives this musical the biggest of hearts.
Big Fish tells of a Will Bloom (Adam Rennie), a grown son frustrated by his father Edward Bloom’s (Phillip Lowe) seemingly endless phantasmal stories about himself. When faced with his father’s impending death Will begins to search more desperately for the man he feels he hardly knows. The musical switches between the magical world of Edward’s stories and the heartfelt interactions of a family faced with upcoming separation, a constant switch that it makes smoothly and beautifully.
For this is a really such a beautiful musical. The Broadway production is often cited as being “over the top”, and it is easy to see how that could happen. But here at the Hayes the fantastical world is probably smaller scale, but it doesn’t feel any less wonderful. The stage transports us to a dreamy landscape where mermaids and giants and witches roam. The stories have all the elements of the most magical of tales- the epitome perhaps being the most romantic proposal scene. It’s whimsy at its very best.
But that is not to forget the true heart of the musical, back in “reality”. The interactions between father and son, husband and wife, are something to be truly treasured. Both duets bringing along a high tide of emotion, and let me tell you towards the end of the production there were continuous sobs echoing unabashedly throughout the theatre from everywhere. It’s an emotional journey, and it is this which apparently gets lost on the bigger flashier Broadway original.
Phillip Lowe headed our performance, but due to a throat infection director Tyran Parke dubbed his singing from the front row. There is some definite magic afoot in these men, and their combined performance really seemed nothing short of perfect. They were joined by the incredible vocal talents of Rennie as Will (Australia has definitely missed this man’s voice) and Katrina Retallick, who puts in an exceptional performance as Sandra Bloom. Her solo in the second act is probably the start of the waterworks, or perhaps it is her heartbreaking line “I don’t care how far you go Edward Bloom as long as you come back”. Either way, Retallick definitely knows how to hit you right in the feelings. The whole cast is phenomenal though, truly a joy to watch.
Big Fish is a whimsical delight, all kinds of magic, and an absolute must-see.
Catch Big Fish now at the Hayes Theatre, playing until 14th May. For more information and to book visit hayestheatre.com.au
The reviewer attended the Opening Night performance on the 21st April.
Photo credit (c) Kate Williams Photography