In order to tell a story effectively, you need to keep the scope in mind. For example, to say you caught a fish as big as a car can be intriguing, while to say it was as big as a house can be off-putting. Such is apparently the case with the story of “Big Fish,” which is a story that has transformed from a book by Grammy- and Oscar-nominated writer John August to a film by other-worldly award-winner Tim Burton to a Broadway play and now to a production at the award-winning SpeakEasy Stage in Boston that has aspirations to transform other venues as well. While many people have their preferences in terms of which version of the story they may prefer, “Fish” at the SpeakEasy (a company that, for nearly 25 years, has been known for taking big shows and bringing them down to size) is an easy favorite
The basic story of “Fish” is a story about stories and what effect they can have on the teller and the told. It focuses on the complicated relationship between tall tale-teller Edward Bloom (Steven Goldstein) and his more pragmatic son Will (Sam Simahk) and the raging river of dreams they must ford en route to reconciliation and recognition. Along the way, there are echoes of other famed stories, including an Old Testament-y labor for love plotline, a “Carousel”-y song about expectant fatherhood, Walter Mitty-an adventures and some “Wicked” cool effects that transport the audience to other times and places, not with big-budget bombast, but with small, subtle and often affecting accents of costume, lighting and projection that transform the intimate stage into spaces as big as the imagination.
Other cast standouts who help make the story engaging and enchanting are SpeakEasy faves Aimee Doherty as Edward’s beloved wife and Will McGarrahan as his supervisor with a secret, as well as the beguiling Aubin Wise as a wicked good witch and Lee David Skunes who stands head and shoulders above the cast (literally) and casts a long, logic-bending shadow on the proceedings. While the choreography is sometimes as herky-jerky as the fish-summoning “Alabama Stomp,” the six-piece Bluegrass-y band can make big sounds when it wants to or, with the help of some masterful sound production that has stones skipping through the audience and the river auditorially engulfing all involved, take it down to pizzicato heart-string plucks that support the story just as well. Even when the band is silent, the musicality remains for, as the story suggests, “If the music stops, just continue with the dance.”
With a small band and a total onstage cast of 12 (as opposed to the 21 of Broadway), the Speakeasy story focuses on the relationships and the subtleties that everyone can relate to, even if the surrounding stories are difficult to believe. In the process, the new production reminds the audience of the importance of stories and may very well inspire and encourage them to reexamine and retell their own. Directed by Speakeasy Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault and with support from August and Broadway version composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa, this smaller take on “Big Fish” may very well be a big fish in its own right.
Tickets: $25-$56. Check website for show times. (www.speakeasystage.com)
– Matt Robinson
527 Tremont St., www.BostonTheatreScene.com.