The Other Palace, London – until 31 December 2017
Guest reviewer: Franco Milazzo
Walking into a show at the relaunched Other Palace is an unpredictable affair: some have been received well and some were Brexodus! The Musical. The latest addition to this cavalcade comes in the form of Big Fish, based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 book Big Fish: A Novel Of Mythic Proportions and Tim Burton’s film Big Fish from 2003.
Andrew Lloyd Webber sees this joint as his incubation centre where works-in-progress can be shown and developed into full-blown productions. Whether a theatre in a prime location which can seat an audience of over 300 is best suited to that purpose is debatable but, as the Old Vic showed last year with the musical version of Groundhog Day, building word of mouth in this way is one way to get bums on seats when the developed version moves to Broadway, the West End or elsewhere.
Big Fish swims onto The (Other) Palace stage with a storied past. With music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family) and a book by John August (Charlie’s Angels, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory – spotting a pattern here?), the original production debuted in September 2013on Broadway, where it managed less than one hundred regular performances before closing. Since then, the show has opened elsewhere in the US, in Germany and Australia before premiering now in London.
Its plot revolves around Edward Bloom, a man with an interesting relationship to reality. His son Will has heard many fantastic tales from his father’s past peopled by a variety of incredible characters (not least a witch, a werewolf, a mermaid and a giant) and, with Edward on his deathbed, resolves to find out how much of what he heard was true. On the journey to the truth, he uncovers a secret from his father’s past.
Having Kelsey Grammer head the London cast is a bit of a bet and definitely a break from previous productions which have used homegrown musical theatre talent; the Broadway version was led by Norbert Leo Butz, who had already won two Tonys for Best Actor (one of only nine men to do so) before playing the fabricating pater and, while Grammer does have a Tony on his mantlepiece, it is was awarded for his work as a producer on the 2016 revival of The Color Purple.
His musical theatre CV is a little short with only two Broadway credits: Georges in La Cage Aux Folles in 2010-2011 and Captain Hook in Finding Neverland in 2015-2016 on which he worked for its first four months and its final seven months. Both roles were senior without being top of the bill so does the actor best known for his TV work have what it takes to bring Edward Bloom to life?
Given his near-death experience after suffering a severe heart attack almost ten years ago, it is unsurprising to see Grammer bring gravitas and empathy to this largely bed-bound role. His decent singing voice does its best to wrest emotion from Edward’s gruff Southern accent but on boisterous songs like Red, White And True, it veers between baritone and barking seal. He has more success with soulful numbers like the unashamedly schmaltzy How It Ends; his classical stage training is apparent in the way he superbly wrings every tearjerking note out of Edward’s emotional finale. Singing apart, his acting is arrestingly good throughout so it is a shame that, for large parts of the plot, he is present only in the form of his younger self played by Jamie Muscato.
PHOTO CREDIT: TRISTRAM KENTON
Alongside him, Clare Burt’s take on the present-day Sandra Bloom may be a minor role but she casts a heart-rending figure in her solo number I Don’t Need A Roof, one of the show’s other hanky-fillers. Muscato cuts a dash albeit with little substance; Matt Seadon-Young as the nebbish Will is, by design or accident, the exact opposite. Alan Cumming’s old mucker Forbes Masson (recently seen on the London stage in the disappointing courtroom drama Terror) is a joy as Amos Calloway and Don Price which on Broadway were played by two different actors; also doubling up is the marvellous Landi Oshinowo as The Witch and Jenny Hill.
Perhaps an actor with a stronger musical theatre background would have given Edward’s songs a deeper resonance but Grammer undoubtably owns the role of Edward Bloom from crown to corns.
BIG FISH THE MUSICAL – Wednesday 1 November – Saturday 31 December 2017
Box Office 020 7087 7900
Twitter and Facebook @londonbigfish
THE OTHER PALACE
12 Palace Street, Westminster, London, SW1E 5JA
FROM THURSDAY 9 NOVEMBER TO SUNDAY 24 DECEMBER
Performance Times Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm, Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm and Sunday at 3.00pm (excluding Sunday 12 November).
FROM WEDNESDAY 27 DECEMBER
Wednesday 27 December 2.30pm 7.30pm
Thursday 28 December 7.30pm
Friday 29 December 2.30pm 7.30pm
Saturday 30 December 2.30pm 7.30pm
Sunday 31 December 2.30pm
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