Families will have the opportunity to catch “Big Fish,” when the Fredericksburg Christian Theater’s production of this fun-filled, heartfelt musical debuts this Friday.
As the action begins, Edward Bloom (Elijah Hunter) is regaling his young son Will (Brennen Atkinson) with one of his endless, fantastic tales—this one about his encounter with a Giant Catfish and his success in catching the legendary creature that has evaded all who have pursued it.
At first, young Will is as enamored with the captivating stories as his loving mom and Edward’s devoted wife, Sandra (Abby Schafer) is. But as the years go by, and the tall tales increase both in number, repetitions and grandiosity, doubt begins to seep into Will’s heart and his trust and opinion of his father begins to erode.
“The whole story is based on the relationship between the father and son,” said director Josh King. “Edward is afraid that his life will not make a difference, so he creates these grand stories so that people will remember him. He’s afraid of being forgotten.”
In the epic myths he conveys, Edward is always the hero. These include the tale of a soothsaying witch (Nina Maliszewski), who once gave him a glimpse into the future and his final day on earth; the story of how he befriended and tamed the Giant (Ryan Burdock), who was terrorizing the townsfolk; and the saga of his first encounter with his true love in a circus, where a werewolf (Solomon Iem) was the ringmaster.
In a scene in Act II, young Will is the only one of his scout group gathered around a campfire who seems bored as Edward dramatically presents his oft-repeated story of how he was willing to sacrifice his own life in the war, to protect his general from a would-be assassin’s poison dart. When his dad cannot answer a scout’s simple question of which war that was, the seeds of Will’s distrust are planted. It climaxes several years later at the wedding of Will (Ethan Gilmore) and his lovely wife, Josephine, (Lauren Ansara), when Edward seizes the moment of a toast to the bride and groom to entertain his captive audience with tales of his heroic feats. From that day forward, communication between Will and Edward came to a halt.
The silence between father and son ends only with a call from Sandra years later with news that Edward is in very poor health and his life is in jeopardy. Will and Josephine rush to the hospital to offer support, and there rises in Will’s heart a desperate desire to understand who his father really was.
In searching for clues, he discovers that the deed to a house in Edward’s hometown had been co-signed by him and his high school sweetheart, Jenny (Shannon Barnes). Will’s suspicion that his father was engaged in an affair leads him to Jenny, but his meeting with her results in an unexpected revelation that his father was, in a sense, a real-life hero—not because of larger-than-life feats but because of selfless acts of kindness that made a lifetime difference for the many people he touched. A reunion of those grateful beneficiaries will leave not a dry eye in the house at curtain call. The depth of the story is enhanced by music director Pam King, who hones the talents of powerhouse singers throughout the show. The show also features dance styles such as stomp and tap, with pieces choreographed by Ashley Culberson.
While the production includes lively musical numbers and has characters such as a looming giant on 24-inch stilts and a mermaid that will delight children, it carries a message that adults will relate to as well.
“‘Big Fish’ is a story about an imperfect family and about the power of love and forgiveness,” said King. “I think we can all identify with some character in the show in one way or the other. We see our own families in their struggles and victories. The show’s last performance is on Father’s Day and I can’t think of a better way for families to celebrate the holiday together than this story of a father and son rebuilding their relationship.”