December 1, 2021

‘Big Fish’ is soooo BIG

Photo provided by SUNY Cortland

A scene from the dynamic and touching musical, “Big Fish,” which plays through Sunday at the Dowd Fine Arts Theatre at SUNY Cortland.

“Big Fish” will grab a hold of your heart and give it a big squeeze. And if you’re prone to tears watching a movie, prepare to blubber.

SUNY Cortland’s performing arts department opened its live theater season with the musical Friday at the Dowd Fine Arts Theater. It’s a terrific piece, portraying a testy father-son relationship where neither understands the other as they grapple through the years, with a dad who insists on magic and a son who wants facts.

Jeff Whiting directs and choreographs the piece, which runs about two hours, including a 15-minute intermission. Musical direction is by Jacob Carll, who heads the orchestra, playing along the back of the stage, out of sight. The show comes from a book by John August with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, based on a Daniel Wallace novel and the Columbia motion picture written by John August.

The music is beautiful, brought to life with a stellar cast. Dominic Green plays Edward Bloom, the father, a traveling salesman with personality galore, and Kyle Rivera his son, Will, a dour reporter, never content with his dad, impatient with his fantastic stories.

Young Will is played by Drew Thomas, a talented boy from McGraw. Sandra Bloom, the loving wife, is played by Aria Odendall, an outstanding singer.

I loved these players. Each of them had poignant numbers — Odendall’s “I Don’t Need a Roof” showed the depth of her love as her husband is dying. He’s worrying for her after he’s gone — you are going to need a roof. No, she sings. “All I need is you and you forever.”

Rivera is amazing as he contemplates fatherhood, with a newly pregnant wife, while Green is poignant in “Daffodils,” when he proposes to his future wife.

The show’s magical elements — with a witch who forecasts the future, a mermaid who graces Edward with kisses and a giant, who really is a giant — is accented by choreography and beautiful set design and lighting. The full cast does the “Alabama Stomp” in the first act, which is just one thrill. Another is how designers bring a tornado to life in one scene, a spooky swamp encounter with witches in another and spin out river water with long blue fabric at a third.

Hats off to Scott Holdredge for scenic design, Nicholas Alteri for stage management, Simone Scalici, technical direction and sound and lighting by Joel Pape.

But I did have a tough time hearing the singers’ voices in the first act, when Green was singing “Be the Hero” and Lauren Cochran, the witch, in her “The Witch” number where she’s telling Edward his future.

For the life of me, I could not hear those words and I wanted to so badly. The singers’ voices were in competition with the orchestra. Either that, or I’ve joined the ranks of senior citizens with hearing problems. But the situation seemed to be ironed out in the second act.

Oh, and I loved Bennett Safsel’s Karl the Giant and Nick Webster’s Amos Calloway. You want to see these fellows more down the road.

The show continues its run 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $10 to $20 and are available at the Performing Arts Department website.

Face masks and either proof of vaccination or negative PCR tests are required to enter the theater.

It’s worth it. Stick on the mask, pull out the vaccination card and go see a talented cast staging a vibrant, fresh show.