Big Fish, based on the eponymous book and film, is a musical about the power folklore can have over a family. Will Bloom (Matt Calvert) is desperate to understand the truth about his ailing father, Edward Bloom, after a childhood spent only being told about the man’s fantastical adventures. The show is rife with nostalgia and optimism as it flows through Edward Bloom’s inconceivable life and prophesized death. He encounters witches, giants and even mermaids, and Big Fish finds the humanity in it all. John August, who also penned the screenplay, knows the real soul of the show lies between father and son.
Front Porch Theatricals presents a reduced, 12-chair version of the show’s short-lived 2013 Broadway run. The performers are constantly on their feet, making their way through demanding tracks. Despite strained vocals in ensemble numbers, they remain buoyant.
Andrew Lippa’s music and lyrics are charming but forgettable. Music director and Ringling Brothers vet Melissa Yanchak leads a string-filled orchestra with experience through the show’s circus numbers.
Though spirited, Spencer Whale’s direction misses opportunities to create true moments of discovery and awe. The skeletal attic scenic design, by Gianni Downs, provides transparency; props and actors are constantly visible. This effect sometimes dims the strength of Whale’s vision. He needs to trust in the audience’s own imagination. More elements like his romantic reveal at the end of Act I would’ve provided a sense of transformation to bolster the themes of the show.
Billy Hartung fully embodies the spirit of Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman. Like Bloom, locally based Broadway veteran Hartung carries a mythical quality that makes his character even more fascinating. After his 12-year stage hiatus, the audience welcomes him with open arms. It’s fulfilling to watch an actor give so much vigor and heart to a role. Kristiann Menotiades is radiant and says it all with her eyes. She loves, she hurts, she hopes. Jason Swauger is distinctive in his roles as lycanthropic ringmaster Amos and concerned Dr. Bennett.
The real magic of Front Porch’s Big Fish doesn’t lie within the fantasy, but rather the reality of Hartung’s return to the stage.