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'Fish' story baits hook with love, tunes

Profile image for Lucinda Breeding
Lucinda Breeding

Before it was a Broadway musical, Big Fish was a fanciful movie released in 2003 — directed by Tim Burton, no less — about a resentful son trying to understand his dying father and the tall tales he's told all his life. 

Or are the stories as tall as Will, the son, thinks? 

Music Theatre of Denton opens Big Fish on Friday, and director Buster Maloney said the stage adaptation is as imaginative as the film is whimsical.

"It really is a love story," said Maloney, who takes on his first large-scale musical with the show. "It's a love story between the father and the son, and between the father and his wife."

Big Fish is about traveling salesman Edward Bloom, who entrances everyone — most of all his wife, Sandra — with his colorful stories. Will is determined to find out once and for all if his father was just a gifted storyteller (or maybe just dishonest or self-aggrandizing) or an adventurer of the highest order. Anthony Ortega, who memorably played Donkey in Shrek this time last year, plays the role of Edward Bloom. Melissa Sims (Always... Patsy Cline) plays the role of Sandra, and Cameron Hall plays the role of Will

The show is fairly demanding, Maloney said. John Norine, a steady hand commanding the orchestra, is directing the music, and choreographer Emily Leekha is shepherding the singers and dancers through the big production numbers that keep Big Fish clicking along.  

"It's pretty technically complex," Maloney said. "A lot of things have to come on stage, happen really quickly and then leave."

Edward Bloom's tales are grand. Maloney said one of the performers is training in stilt-walking to play the role of the giant. And Pete Kelly returns to create special effects — including the rumps of two towering elephants. The crew also is creating a wild river for a mermaid scene, complete with fish that jump. 

"We're using a lot of projections, too," Maloney said. 

Audiences should expect some spectacle and a familiar score.

"This is definitely a Broadway musical. And you know, with a lot of community theaters, when you do a musical, you don't get the whole score. A lot of times, the performers will mainly sing the melody," Maloney said.  "We're so lucky to have John Norine. For him, the score is the Bible. You're going to hear every one of those harmonies."

Performances are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 20-21 and Oct. 27-28, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22 and 29. Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $15 for students. For reservations, call 940-382-1915 or visit www.musictheatreofdenton.com.

FEATURED IMAGE: Trey Balentine, left, and Anthony Ortega, play Young Will and Edward Bloom in Musical Theatre of Denton's production of Big Fish. The musical is the story of Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman who captured the heart of his wife with his larger-than-life tales. Now that he's at the end of his life, Edward seeks to mend fences with his son Will, who wants to get to the bottom of his father's epic tales. Jake King/DRC