Big Fish

Based on the Novel by Daniel Wallace and the Screenplay by John August
Book by John August
Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Directed by John R. Leffert

Review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2016, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

Big Fish began life as a novel in 1988, telling a story that has been compared to The Odyssey, The Wizard of Oz, and The Music Man. It was made into a film that was considered a return to form for director Tim Burton in 2003, and finally into a Broadway musical in 2013.

The musical version has made its way to Louisville in an exuberant production by CenterStage. Colorful, ebullient, and well acted, the show overcame some technical snafus and a couple of sour notes on opening night to leave the packed audience overcome with emotion.

The fanciful story involves the larger-than-life Edward Bloom (Pete Lay), nearing the end of his life and trying to make piece with his son, Will (Mitch Donahue). Will is struggling to glean the truth from the lifetime of tall tales Edward has been spinning, involving stories of giants, werewolves, mermaids, and witches; and he is very aware he may not like the answers he finds.

Pete Lay owns the production. His Edward is magnetic and loveable, and he plays the character at various ages as his life story plays out in flashbacks. Mitch Donahue keeps Will firmly in the audience’s sympathies, playing a character that could easily turn unlikeable. Melissa Kenney Shepherd is just lovely as Edward’s longsuffering wife Sandra, and it’s easy to see by her portrayal why she is the love of his life.

The supporting cast is equally solid, with some really strong moments provided by Jennifer Poliskie, Isaiah Hein, Jason Cooper, and Frank Goodloe III, among many others.

Director John Leffert keeps the pace fast and furious, and Andrew Lippa’s songs are immediately memorable, particularly “Be the Hero” and “Fight the Dragon”. Michael F. Hottois’ set design is not the most elaborate I’ve seen at CenterStage lately, but it is still lovely to look at, creating the illusion of woods and river, and nicely illuminated by Theresa Bagan’s colorful lighting design.

If you are a fan of the novel or the film, there is a lot to like about this production, but be advised there are some major differences. But for an evening of tuneful, emotional theater, this is the show to fit the bill.

Featuring Jessica Adamson, Emma Chandler, Jason Cooper, Jim Craig, Mitch Donahue, Andy Epstein, Frank Goodloe III, Isaiah Hein, Erin Jump, Amanda Kyle Lahti, Pete Lay, Eric Moth, Teagan Newman, Bailey Pierce, Jennifer Poliskie, Melissa Kenney Shepherd, Margo Wooldridge, Clark Worden, and Marianne Zickuhr.

Big Fish

January 28 – February 14, 2016

Jewish Community Center
3600 Dutchman’s Lane
Louisville, Kentucky 40205


Craig Head ShotCraig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.