KEARNEY — For left brain thinkers, “Big Fish” might feel like a bit of a stretch.
For people who understand life through stories, regardless of the facts, the musical takes audience members on a delightful trip through the lives of the characters on stage before us.
The premise of the play, opening today at Kearney Community Theatre, involves a young man coming to terms with the life of his dying father.
Will Bloom, played by Josh Stoiber, wants to know the truth about something as simple as how his dad met his mom. In a song, Will declares, “My father told me stories I could never comprehend; in every tale he claimed to be the hero.”
Will talks about the “seven different versions of how my father met my mother.”
Told through story and song, the play trips along merrily in an irrepressible manner that attracts even the leftest of the left brain thinkers in the audience.
Performances of “Big Fish,” with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and book by John August, continue through July 28 at Kearney Community Theater. Tickets are $18.
The play starts as Will anticipates the birth of his son, only to learn that his father, Edward Bloom, played by Stephen Rodgers, is dying from cancer.
Will wants to sort through the various stories his father has told him throughout the years. The scenes between the two characters, often played in a gentle and comical style, help propel the production. Both performers carry the show with ease and confidence.
Instead of dragging the audience into the tales, Edward invites us — and the other characters in the show — to accompany him as he relives these stories. For anyone needing a story arc to make sense of the show, suffice to say that Will’s transformation mirrors our own journey with Edward.
With a cast of 21 performers, director Alex Schwarz paints pictures in movement and sound on stage. He contrasts large ensemble scenes with the intensity of a single performer singing on a bare stage. While mostly using sparse settings, Schwarz can transform the performance area to a field of bright yellow flowers in an instant. We all know the flowers are painted on a backdrop but that kind of stage magic pulls us in and allows us to fill in the blank spots with our own imaginations.
“Big Fish” uses the magic of theater to tell convoluted stories, exactly the kinds of stories we try to tell in our own lives.
Watch for an outstanding performance from Will Frederick, which is hard to miss since he plays Karl the Giant and stands a good three feet above everybody else. Yes, we know it is just an actor on stilts, but with fine work of the cast and the combination of excellent lighting and other technical details, the hard facts melt away, replaced by the love of story — and the love of the characters on stage.
Also watch for a circus audition scene — trust me, it’s a long story — featuring the Alabama Lambs with Annie Hooton, Deborah Anderson and Jordan Kitzelman. It’s unfair to say that they steal the show because there is so much “show” to go around. They certainly stand out in a musical filled with standout moments.
The cast and crew of “Big Fish” tell a big story in a big way with tender moments sprinkled throughout. We often use the term “magic” to help us understand the mysterious. This show dips the lives of the characters — and ultimately our lives, too — into the realm of gentle magic, allowing us to accept seven different versions of any particular story to help us better understand the aspects that escape hard explanations.
The world of live theater, when done well, explores this with passion and drive.
“Big Fish” achieves that goal, too, and brings the audience along for fun.