The Epiphany Players Drama Ministry of Epiphany Lutheran Church in Centerville emphasizes the whimsical wonders of storytelling as it presents librettist John August and songwriter Andrew Lippa’s 2013 stage adaptation of “Big Fish,” the organization’s 26th annual summer musical slated July 14-24.
Based on the 1998 novel of the same name by Daniel Wallace and the 2003 screenplay by August, “Big Fish” concerns Edward Bloom of Alabama, a traveling salesman who loves to spin tale tales of his adventures with witches, giants, mermaids and more. But when Edward’s son, Will, desires to separate fact from fiction, their bond is put to the test.
“The journey of storytelling is so important in this show because stories live on,” said director/choreographer Megan Wean Sears, drama instructor at Alter High School who has spearheaded Epiphany’s summer productions since 2013. “We tell stories to inspire, encourage, heal and protect. And inside a story, you can be whoever you want to be. Everyone in the show sees Edward as a fabricated storyteller, but we’re here to say it’s okay to be who you are no matter how silly or crazy people think you are. ‘Big Fish’ is a story about a father who tells his son stories to encourage and inspire him. Through these stories, the father teaches his son to be brave, not just the ‘fighting dragons’ sort of bravery, but brave enough to believe in himself and be who he was created to be. In this story their relationship is broken and desperately needs healing. We learn that it is never too late to heal and never too late to forgive.”
In standard Epiphany fashion, the show has been double-cast, a tradition established by longtime drama ministry director Kay Frances Wean (posthumously inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame in 2013) utilizing the full spectrum of talent. This year’s large cast features 75 performers. The principals include John Benjamin and Brady Kress as Edward Bloom, Desmond Thomas and Eric Thompson as Teen Edward, Bobby Klosterman and John Morgan as Young Edward, Kandis Wean and Kellie Daab as Sandra Bloom, Brianna Russ and Abby Kress as Teen Sandra, Jeffrey Mack and Timmy Seiler as Will Bloom, and Liam Utt and Curtis LeMieux as Young Will. Having actors portray characters in different stages of their life is a conceptual change from the short-lived Broadway production, but Sears says it speaks to the ministry’s legacy of inclusion.
“It’s a purposeful decision established by my mom,” she explained. “How do we make more people feel special? How do we get more people involved and give them an opportunity? But my vision for particularly having multiple actors as Edward is built on the idea that he is constantly watching his story unfold. But I like a challenge and this show is a spectacle. It has a wonderful Golden Age of Broadway feel with production number after production number. But the music is gorgeous and the show has the right message. It’s also great to do a show that allows us to have more family involvement. This year feels like it was when my mom first started directing the ministry. We particularly have so many more adults involved this time. It’s just nice to have a wide range of people from the age of seven to 60. It’s great to have a multigenerational family feel.”
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“Epiphany is a wonderful program,” added Thompson, a standout last season as Enoch Snow in Dayton Playhouse’s “Carousel” appearing in his first Epiphany show. He’ll join WSU’s theatre program this fall. “Megan has made this show very specific and told me to write down everything. I’d never written down blocking or notes before, but I feel like it has prepared me for the next step in college. Epiphany is a learning process and ‘Big Fish’ has been an amazing experience. I really love the music in this show.”
Lippa’s charming score includes “Be the Hero,” “Time Stops,” “Daffodils,” “Fight the Dragons” and “I Don’t Need a Roof.” In addition to writing the music and lyrics for “The Wild Party,” he received a Tony nomination for his score of “The Addams Family.” David Brush serves as musical director.
“The score lends itself so easily to ensemble singing and large group numbers,” said Brianna Russ whose credits last season included Tarzan’s mother Kala in Epiphany’s “Tarzan” and the title role in Muse Machine’s “Mary Poppins.” She’ll also be a part of WSU’s theatre program this fall. “I feel like that really fits the theme of storytelling and family. It allows so many people to come together to tell a story and share something they love. The score also jumps through many decades and genres so the audience gets a little taste of everything. It plays to the strengths of all sorts of people and helps create a family bond in the cast.”
If putting on a huge musical wasn’t already incredibly demanding, Sears is doing so while eight months pregnant. Still, with choreographic assistance from Sarah Egbert and dance captain Abby Kress, her vision remains intact.
“I usually do everything full-out to show the cast exactly what I want,” she said. “But it’s been a great help not having to jump and dance as much.”