By Samantha Gougher
Entering Sock N’ Buskin’s spring production of Big Fish, I had absolutely no idea of the subject or story of the newly released musical. I had heard friends discussing bizarre concepts such as the “Alabama stomp” and the implementation of stilts, and I knew that the show was inspired by an older movie, but other than that, I was entering uninformed. The other audience members seemed to feel similarly; because Big Fish is lesser known than shows such as Les Miserables and Hamilton, it really is a blank slate in the mind of the average viewer.
And it was delightful. The excellent performances, beautiful costumes, and intricate set weaved fantasy into reality just as the plot suggested—and yes, as most musicals do, it made me quietly cry in a large room of other people quietly crying for ten minutes straight. Audience members were engaged and stirred by the artistry of the performance and technical aspects of the show, most notably the heartbreaking rendition of “I Don’t Need a Roof” by Emily Goulazian (Sandra Bloom) and the reveal of daffodils that surrounded the audience at the close of Act 1.
From the beginning of Big Fish, one could tell that it would be a special production. The colorful, engaging opening number “Be the Hero” highlights the fantastical stories further explored throughout the show, engaging the audience from the very start. A notable aspect of this show was the excellent choreography, which was very prevalent during the opening number.
The subsequent performance of the witch’s sequence was hilarious (thanks to the acting skills of Anthony Caruso, Alex Miller, and James Hakowski), and Libby Tofig belted to impressive heights in her amazing song.
Also notable was the transition from the Alabama house setting to the wedding of Will and Josephine Bloom (Noah Morris and Emma Lambert), which happened smoothly and beautifully right in front of the audience’s eyes. The costumes in this scene were again gorgeous and extremely unique; it’s clear that both work and love were put into their creation. Following the wedding was the song “Stranger,” sung by Noah Morris, which was introspective, moving, and extremely well-performed. Both Hakowski and Morris did an amazing job portraying a complicated father-son dynamic throughout the entire show.
Ensemble numbers such as “Ashton’s Favorite Son” demonstrated the strength of the show’s company; it’s one thing to have an amazing set of leads, but even more impressive to have an entire cast of extremely talented individuals. Solomon Abrahamson’s performance as Karl the Giant was endearing, entertaining, and impressive—he actually taught himself how to walk (and dance) on stilts for the majority of the show.
The blooming (pun!) romance between Edward and Sandra, told through flashbacks and small scenes, claims most of the promotional art for the show and for good reason. Goulazian and Hakowski play their roles extremely well, bouncing back and forth between youth and old age flawlessly. And they nailed the Southern accents, too. Their songs together are fantastic, and the aforementioned daffodil reveal at the end of Act 1 is breathtaking. And Goulazian’s blue dress is one of the most beautiful garments of clothing I’ve ever seen on stage.
When things take a turn for the worse in Act 2, Emma Lambert’s Josephine remains positive and consistent, balancing out the rising drama perfectly. With Edward’s deteriorating condition comes what I’d imagine to be extremely difficult acting tasks for both Hakowski and Goulazian, who rise to the challenge and accomplish the emotional moments fantastically. In fact, there was pretty much a ten-second break between the end of Goulazian’s “I Don’t Need a Roof” and the audience’s realization that it was time to stop crying and start applauding.
In addition to the leads mentioned, Kiera Fitzpatrick’s performance as Jenny Hill was at times comical and at other times extremely moving; her scene with William Bloom (Morris) was compassionate and sincere, confronting the central conflict of the show and enforcing its moral.
The ending of Big Fish was beautifully done and had most of the audience in tears. I honestly think one of the biggest talents this cast possessed was the ability to not bawl onstage at the art they were creating. The end of Edward Bloom spelled new beginnings for the town of Ashton and the marriage of William and Josephine.
Although the average audience member of Big Fish at CR North probably didn’t know much about it when approaching the show, I’m sure the musical left a lasting mark on many. It was extremely refreshing to see how amazing performances, genius sets, and gorgeous costumes could be produced and managed by the people I see in the hallway every day. The hard work and dedication put in by Sock ‘N’ Buskin members shines always.