Top Hat’s ‘Big Fish’ is worth catching



The fact that it was director Tim Burton who made the 2003 movie “Big Fish” tells you that the story is warm, weird and full of wonder.

Those qualities are just as pronounced in the stage adaptation, which made its Mahoning Valley premiere last weekend at Top Hat Productions’ theater.

“Big Fish,” the musical, actually works better than the movie, which was so-so.

Top Hat’s version definitely captures the tale’s magic, and Brian Palumbo’s performance in the lead role of Edward Bloom is likely one of the best you will see on a local stage this season.

The theater makes good use of its stage to create the requisite special effects, including an encounter with a coven of witches. At other times, figments of Edward Bloom’s boundless imagination appear and disappear.

The oddities also include a giant (played to towering effect by Kaleb McFarland), a mermaid and some circus folk.

The story revolves around Edward Bloom and his son, Will (played by Anthony Villa, who skillfully mixes adult cynicism with boyish admiration). The elder Bloom has always been a larger than life figure in his son’s eyes because of the astonishing – if barely true – tales of his life. But as his father’s health fades, Will, a realist who is about to become a father to a boy himself, seeks to separate the fact from the fiction about his dad.

The elder Bloom was a traveling salesman, and his gift of gab no doubt served him well. Maybe too well. For a split second, the plot teeters on “Death of a Salesman.”

Palumbo has the easy-going confidence of this small-town Alabama boy-turned-man. He is relaxed in the role, and that’s the biggest part of his magnetism.

Marlene Figley plays Edward’s devoted wife, Sandra, the picture of devotion.

The stage version of “Big Fish” is a musical and its score – which was prerecorded – is catchy and instantly likable.

The number “Time Stops,” a duet between the young Edward Bloom and Sandra when the two meet, is a highlight of the evening, but it’s not the only one. Villa and Figley demonstrate their standout voices at other times.

The ensemble fills the smallish stage but never overwhelms it, although I could have used some more vigorous singing in the first act.

Brightening up their every scene is a unit of six young dancers (Haley DiLullo, Jillian Pearl Gady, Teegan Graff, Hunter Lombard, Brianna Phillips and Taylor Sackella) who were very precise and well practiced in their choreography. Their USO dance scene was flawless.

“Big Fish” works on several levels. It has a father-son focus and a circle- of-life theme, and it’s great theater for kids of all ages.

And if the job of any theater is to sweep the audience up in the story, no matter how fantastical it is, then Top Hat’s production succeeds.

“Big Fish” will continue with performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and Feb. 17 and 18, at Fairview Arts and Outreach Center, 4220 Youngstown-Poland Road. Call 800-838-3006 for reservations.

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