Palo Alto Players stage heartwarming ‘Big Fish’ 

click to enlarge Elizabeth Santana and Chris Janssen are delightful in Palo Alto Players’ production of the musical “Big Fish.” - COURTESY JOYCE GOLDSCHMID
  • COURTESY JOYCE GOLDSCHMID
  • Elizabeth Santana and Chris Janssen are delightful in Palo Alto Players’ production of the musical “Big Fish.”
There’s a big heart beating in “Big Fish” at the Lucie Stern Theater. The Palo Alto Players production benefits from talented leads with true chemistry in this West Coast premiere.

Those familiar with Tim Burton’s 2003 film on which the musical is based know that the role of Edward Bloom requires an immense amount of easy charm and Chris Janssen has that in abundance. He’s a dynamic singer with a great range and his acting has a touch of Robin Williams whimsy.

Providing a perfect balance is Elizabeth Santana as Sandra Bloom, Ed’s partner, defender, enabler and the love of his life. Santana’s performance is beautifully honest and simple. She will break your heart with the tender ballad, “I Don’t Need a Roof.”

Sadly, the Bloom parents did not pass their talents to their stage son Will, played by Danny Martin. In Martin’s defense, the role is poorly written, to start at “A” for angry and not get to “B” until the very last minutes of the show. Still, a better actor might mitigate some of these shortcomings; Martin,with a limited range, is not up to the challenge.

There are many delights to be found in the supporting cast. Jennifer Gregoire is a sweetly supportive fiancé try to help Will work though his anger issues. Mark Alabanza makes an amusing shyster of circus owner Amos Calloway who keeps a hairy secret. David Murphy provides a gentle giant with heart and smarts in Karl. Jessica Whittemore is a poignant Jenny Hill, the girl Will left behind.

Raegena Raymond-Brunker gets a great spotlight solo moment as the Witch but unfortunately only seems to be able to shout her lyrics. Nic Roy Garcia as Young Will suffers from the same “angry young man” writing as Martin but does get to express some honest boyish glee. The rest of the company fills the production with a buoyant energy.

Director Patrick Klein keeps the production swimming along though an impressive set of his own design, utilizing versatile moving panels. Video projections add a significant contribution to setting or enhancing scenes.

Costumes by Lisa Lutkenhouse Lowe are a mixed bag, sometimes in the same outfit, like those of the Witch’s acolytes who sport marvelous “wings,” but are otherwise inconsistently dressed from the prior scene. While Jennifer Gorgulho’s choreography hits its high point early in the stomp section of “Be the Hero,” music director Matthew Mattei seems to have spent little time on the string and horn sections.

REVIEW

Big Fish

Presented by Palo Alto Players

Where: Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

When: 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 28

Tickets: $34 to $48

Contact: (650) 329-0891, www.paplayers.org

About The Author

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol

Bio:
Robert Sokol is the editor at BAYSTAGES, the creative director at VIA MEDIA, and a lifelong arts supporter. Diva wrangler, cinefiler, and occasional saloon singer, he has been touching showbiz all his life. (So far no restraining orders have been issued!)... more
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