The Other Palace
7 November 2017
It would appear that the UK has started a love affair with Andrew Lippa. No sooner has his musical version of The Addams Family finished its UK tour, than we are blessed with another musical of his, Big Fish which is now playing at London's The Other Palace starring Frasier's Kelsey Grammer.
Based on the novel Big Fish by Daniel Wallace and the film screenplay of Tim Burton's film version written by John August, this production seems to ideally fit the purview of Lloyd Webber's venue and its aim of developing musicals. Originally staged on Broadway in a rather large and lavish spectacle, director Nigel Harman has opted to stage this production in an altogether different way.
This smaller, more intimate production of Big Fish, is set within the confines of a hospital. Harman's genius is directing this production is that Edward Bloom's stories are bought to live by hospital staff and patients using all manner of medical paraphernalia as props and costumes. Tom Rogers deserves high praise for sets and costumes that allow Bloom's stories to come to life but always have that nonsense factor due to the very way that they are told – much in the same way as you would utilise items from a child's dressing up box. Add Duncan McLean's wonderful projections into the mix and this story takes on a magical quality.
Big Fish is the story of Edward Bloom, a larger than life character, consumate story-teller, husband and father. As he nears the end of his life, his son tries to reconcile his fathers tales with the truth and ends up finding that his father is so much more than the stories he spins.
Kelsey Grammer brings the largese of Edward Bloom to life in one of the most moving performances I have seen in a musical in a while. Bombastic, charming, sensitive and irresistable, he spins a compelling tale. You would be a hard-hearted soul not to shed a tear (as I did) by the end of this musical based on Grammer's performance.
Matthew Seadon Young brings the frustration of Will Bloom to the fore. It's a stunning performance beautifully balanced by Clare Burt playing Sandra Bloom (Edward's wife). The family dynamic of the Bloom's plays out beautifully. There is so much truth in this trio of performances and I wish there had been more to savour.
As Edward Bloom's tales are bought to life by the nurses, doctors, patients and the rag tag mentally unstable, Jamie Muscato as Story Edward brings to life the many stories (with variations) that are so wildly improbable yet so addictive. Muscato's larger than life all American boy complete with a twinkle in his eye is completely believeable as a younger version of Grammer. The love affair with Story Sandra (Laura Baldwin) is magical. Add in performances from Forbes Mason, Dean Nolan, Tamisha Spring, Frances McNamee and Landi Oshinowo and you get a story that is complex, textured and more than a bit emotional.
Lippa's glorious score is bought to life by Alan Berry and his merry band of six. Lush and jaunty, they perfectly compliment some of the emotional themes conatined in the lyrics, no more so than in the stunning Time Stops.
Andrew Lippa and John August have shown the flexibility of their material and its ability to shed a large glitzy production in favour of Harman's honest story-telling. At a trim 2 hours I found myself wanting more and am looking forward to revisiting the film before a return trip to this magical musical.