The Hippo


May 29, 2020








Stuart Harmon plays Edward Bloom in the Stagecoach Productions show Big Fish. Courtesy photo.

See Big Fish

Where: Janice B. Streeter Theater, 14 Court St., Nashua
When: Friday, Nov. 6, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 8, at 2 p.m.
Admission: $20
UNH Durham production: Wednesday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m.; Thursday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 8, at 2 p.m., $18, 30 Academic Way, Durham, 862-2919

Imaginative tales
Stagecoach takes on Big Fish

By Kelly Sennott

When Scott Severance decided to direct Stagecoach Productions’ Big Fish this fall, he knew it would require lots of collaborating and outside-the-box thinking. 

No New Hampshire community theater had done the show before — in fact, the only other company, locally, to take it on was UNH Durham, whose production premieres the same weekend. The musical calls for a lot, from flashback scenes and obscure costumes to fantastical sets and storylines. 
But Severance and Stagecoach co-founders Judy Hayward and Michele Henderson liked the music. They liked the story. And even though the 2013 Broadway run was cut short, Severance saw the right elements for a great community theater extravaganza.
“It’s heartfelt, romantic and sad as hell, and hilarious, and there are quirky characters in it,” Severance said. “My two biggest focus points as a director have always been storytelling and collaboration. And this musical doesn’t just need those things — it demands it.”
For one, it’s a story about storytelling. Based on the book by Daniel Wallace and the adapted film by Tim Burton, Big Fish tells of the relationship between Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman, and his adult son Will who, soon to be a dad himself, wants to find the truth behind his father’s too-tall tales — which involve witches and giants, circuses and wars — before it’s too late.
“It’s got so many moving parts. It’s not like The Last Five Years or You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” Severance said. “The thing requires vast scene changes and a gazillion costume changes.”
Costume designer Allison Szklarz said most of those costumes aren’t typical musical garb; she needed to dress a mermaid, acrobats, siamese twins, a magician, a lion tamer, a ninja, a general and a ringmaster who turns into a werewolf. And, because there are so many flashbacks, she needed to find both contemporary and 1950s fashion. 
Severance and set designer Don Smith-Weiss had their hands full too. They had to figure out how to shoot a guy from a cannon and get a couple of elephants, tornado and flood onstage. Broadway did it with a big stage and budget, but this company has neither the cash, time nor resources to make these story elements realistic.
The pair began talking about adaptation ideas months and months ago, and the result is almost Lion King-esque in design. Set pieces are less representational, more suggestive. Floods will leak onstage via long blankets of fabric. Bats will fly with the help of attached sticks carried by actors. At one point, a piece of the stage becomes a car. Just for kicks, they threw a remote-controlled rat into one scene. 
They’re less special effects, more imagination-required effects, which is kind of how Severance prefers it anyway.
“My gripe with Broadway is they go so over the top with bells and whistles, they sometimes lose track of the story they’re trying to tell,” he said. 
Actors said during rehearsals recently that  they were attracted by the music and storyline. Stuart Harmon, who plays adult Edward Bloom, first heard of Big Fish through the song “How it Ends,” which is the last he sings. He said the first time they began blocking, a few cast members “lost it.”
“For a show that has a lot of fantasy elements, it has some of the most real emotion I’ve seen in a show,” Harmon said.
Laura Millar, who plays the witch, said there’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes work about character intentions and how to root fantasy into reality, because despite the musical’s outlandish characteristics, the roots of the tale are very real to a lot of people.
“It’s about a father and son coming together. The father is dying. They have not connected before. And a lot of people have had that experience. I had a great relationship with my father, but having had the experience of him dying, I can still identify with [the story],” Smith-Weiss said.  

®2020 Hippo Press. site by wedu