Review Round-Ups

Did Big Fish make a splash with critics?

Kelsey Grammer makes his London stage debut in the musical

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage


"Nigel Harman directs with panache, with designer Tom Rogers, lighting designer Bruno Poet and projection designer Duncan McLean transforming the tiny stage with flair and invention…. The moment when Ed imagines his hospital room transformed into a navy battleship is a feast of song and dance of which choreographer Liam Steel can be rightly proud."

"The problems are all structural. The first act, in particular, seems to have too many songs of too many contrasting textures. The duet in which Will's wife and mother Sandra (lovely Clare Burt) sing of the challenges of parenthood is tender and touching but seems to belong to a different show than the sentimental "Daffodils", in which Ed and Sandra declare their love."

"But it is Grammer who glues the show together and you miss him when he is not there. He does all the things you'd expect of him – exhibiting charisma, charm, and superb comic timing. Then, just when you least expect it, his face dissolves, his voice cracks and he reduces you to tears. It is a five-star performance in a frustrating show."

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"Anyone drawn to this musical by the prospect of seeing Frasier's Kelsey Grammer is in for a bit of a shock: although Grammer is the pivot of the story and the best thing in the show, he is off stage for long periods. For the most part, we get a mix of father-son story and spiralling fairytale that never achieves the moment of ecstasy we look for in a musical."

"Nigel Harman’s production has shrewdly abandoned the spectacle that supposedly stifled the Broadway version and presents us with more homespun magic arising, in Tom Rogers’s design, from a hospital bedroom setting. But in a musical one looks for memorable songs and Andrew Lippa’s score falls sadly short."

"There’s a cheery wartime number, "Red, White and True", with just a hint of the Andrews Sisters, and I was touched by Clare Burt’s rendering, as Edward’s wife, of a song signalling her marital devotion. Otherwise there is little to lodge in the mind in a middling musical that fails to exploit, in the manner of Follies, Edward’s split selves, and that doesn’t give us nearly enough Grammer."

Ann Treneman, The Times


"Nigel Harman directs what is, at times, a bit of a tear-jerker. Grammer, basically, seems to be playing himself and is very good, as is a perfectly pitched Clare Burt as his wife. Also of note is the younger Edward, Jamie Muscato, who really can hold a stage."

"For all of that, Big Fish never feels quite natural. The numbers arrive, breathless and usually exuberant, but often they don’t feel linked. Is the fish too big? The pond too small? Or (whisper it) is it all just too contrived?"

Tim Bano, The Stage


"Andrew Lippa’s music is as mixed as the rest of the production. At its best, we get bouncy vaudeville pastiche, augmented by fantastic choreography from Liam Steel, but more often it’s maximum schmaltz, songs that are barely more than functional, sentimentality-by-numbers."

"In many ways, this feels like Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s Fun Home in its exploration of parent-child relationships and its sifting of the facts and fictions of memory, but it lacks that show’s delicacy of touch and wounding rawness."

"Still, in Grammer and Seadon-Young we see the complexities of fathers and their sons laid bare, and together they create quite a moving climax. But if artistic director Paul Taylor Mills was hoping to land a whopper with this, instead he’s caught something of a sprat."

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard


"Nigel Harman’s efficient production is much more modest than the Broadway staging by Susan Stroman — and without an abundance of visual distractions, too heavy a burden falls on Lippa’s quaint score and cutesy lyrics."

Though it’s only fair to say that I noticed quite a few of the people around me weeping by the end, Big Fish strikes me as too steeped in sentimentality to reel in most audiences. Frasier fans will be disappointed to find that the charismatic Grammer is frequently offstage, and there’s a certain irony in his exuding such sun-kissed health in a show where his character is meant to be at death’s door.

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph


"Grammer himself emerges with flying colours, albeit he appears so bronzed and healthy, he makes you want to contemplate a winter break, not life’s brevity. He cuts a warmer figure than he did on "Frasier", much of the time pitiful in hospital pyjamas, and he can hold a tune with a gravelly drawl. "

"Hats off too, to the supporting cast: whether familial or fantastical (giant, future-telling witch, mermaid et al). Despite frantically tugging at your heart-strings in the closing section, Big Fish remains small fry to the end."

Big Fish runs from 7 November to 31 December at The Other Palace.

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