Have you ever been told a tall tale that had you questioning the sanity of the relative who was telling the story? Perhaps the main character in the story was a giant stomping about or a witch cackling in the forest…or, funnily enough, your dad?
For those who visit home during the holidays, we get a taste of this annually. For Will Bloom, his eccentric and extroverted father Edward’s tall tales were all he knew, and thanks to Keegan Theatre, his larger-than-life stories of magic are coming to the District on August 5.
Big Fish tells the story of Edward, a traveling salesman, who lives life by way of his imagination. His son Will is determined to find the truth behind his father’s tales, and as we watch him grow into a man of his own with a child on the way, he discovers that the extraordinary stories he once dismissed might contain the truth of their relationship – and a secret that Edward never shared.
“It’s a father and son fantasy,” explains Dan Van Why, who plays Edward. “Will wished he had more of a connection with his father, aside from just the tales he told.”
In the midst of growing older (fatherhood, family struggles and other pivotal milestones), Will finally came to understand his father in a way he never knew as a child – that he lives by his imagination and only wants the same for his son.
“His father just wanted [Will] to have a big life,” Van Why says.
Edward takes his family on grand adventures, with the moral of the stories always coming back to not being afraid to explore your mind.
Codirector and Helen Hayes Award winner Colin Smith adds that the musical is “heartwarming, fun, energetic and a beautiful show surrounded by magic.”
“I love the heart of it,” Smith says.
If the budding relationship of father and son isn’t enough to grab you, maybe the score will. With the opening number “Be the Hero,” and pieces that will tug on your heartstrings like “Stranger,” Big Fish delivers in the musical department, which proved to be the attraction to the show for Van Why. He says the score drew him to the production, as did “working with a terrific company comprised of amazing, hardworking and nurturing people.”
The actor also mentions his connection to his character, saying that he sees himself in Edward when it comes to life throwing things your way and just having to deal – not necessarily seeking adventure, but being sought out by adventure itself. Smith also feels a connection to one of the characters – Will.
“My father passed away when I was in my early 20s, so the idea of a son coming to grips with his father who’s dying is something that’s very personal to me,” he says. I’m from the South, so I feel like I know the [characters] in the show – people who are big, but not cocky. And growing up in a generation without TV and Internet, we used our imaginations. We [still] try to keep what Edward has – imaginative storytelling. It’s a beautiful part of human nature.”
Previous productions of Big Fish have been staged with grand set pieces, elaborate costumes and explosive lighting design, but Keegan Theatre is staying true to the script and keeping the set minimal.
“The set is pretty adaptable – a blank space or abstract if we need it,” Smith says. “We want the audience to come in with a sense of wonder that I think we can often lose [as we age]. We see Edward have it and Will regain it, so we want the atmosphere to have a sense of wonder.”
Van Why encourages local theatergoers to see the play because “we live in a world that’s getting smaller and smaller by the minute, and any opportunity we can take to dream big and look outward, we need.”
Keegan Theatre’s production of Big Fish is sure to reel you in from the opening sequence. With tales of wonder, magic and genuine human connection running rampant throughout the musical, your emotions – and your imagination – will be ignited.
Big Fish runs from August 5 to September 2 at Keegan Theatre. Tickets start at $45. Go to www.keegantheatre.com for more information.
Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; 202-265-3767; www.keegantheatre.com