Exploring the fantasy, wonder and heart of “Big Fish” at Runway Theatre

An inside look at Runway Theatre’s production of “Big Fish.”

Runway Theatre- "Big Fish"
(L-R): Runway Hall of Fame member, Greg Kozakis rehearses as Amos with Tripp Jackson as Edward – Pictures and captions courtesy of Runway Theatre/Amy Jackson

A mermaid, a giant and a witch are just some of the colorful characters traveling salesman Edward Bloom claims to have encountered over the years. Edward’s son, Will, has heard just about enough of his father’s outlandish “fish stories” and wants to know the truth. His efforts to separate the fact from his father’s fiction before he starts his own family take center stage in “Big Fish,” the upcoming musical heading to Grapevine’s Runway Theatre from April 5-21.

The musical, based on the Daniel Wallace book and Tim Burton-directed movie, has long been a favorite of Runway Theatre Director Misty Baptiste. She first saw the show some 10 years ago at her alma mater, Abilene Christian University. A couple of years later, she then directed a high school production of the play. “I have long had an affinity for ‘Big Fish,’” Baptiste said, feelings echoed by starring cast members Tripp Jackson and Jordan Justice, who likewise felt a connection to the show’s music and message.

One of Baptiste’s goals with the musical is to showcase how “this is a fantastical story, but there’s still a lot of reality based in it” when it comes to Edward and Will’s relationship.

Runway Theatre- "Big Fish"
Director Misty Baptiste works with (L-R) Addie Lee as Josephine and Jordan Justice as Will.

Jackson, who plays Edward in the Runway Theatre production, sees the character as “a normal guy” and father who sets out to embellish his life for his young son in order to include him in it. “Edward was just doing the best he could being from a small Alabama town, wanting to see the world that he really didn’t get a chance to see, and inviting Will into the world that he had.”

Audiences have a chance to see both the whimsical and wonderful world Edward creates through his stories as well as his real-life relationship with Will in “Big Fish.” Baptiste praised the “wonderful technicians” and “very creative minds” working to bring the show’s fantasy elements to life, highlighting the challenges that come with the many inventive flashbacks and sequences within the production. She described how the production team has been experimenting with quick wardrobe changes within just a few steps on stage to transition Edward back into his young adult days during different stories.

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In addition, Jackson explained that the Runway Theatre production is the small cast edition of the play with 12 actors as opposed to the expanded cast of the 2013 Broadway production. It means many of the actors tackle additional roles in the musical when needed. “It’s been challenging to figure out, ‘Okay, how many of our 12 people do we actually have to be in this scene because four of them are in the next scene as something else, and there’s no time to change,’” Jackson said. “So, it’s been fun to see how we’re making that transition happen.”

While the extravagant tales and accompanying musical numbers certainly make for an entertaining show, they also help to accentuate the heart of “Big Fish.”

“Parent-child relationships are complicated. There’s a lot of things that can occur that are just so difficult to put into words,” Justice, who plays the adult Will, said. Justice views the fantasy stories as metaphors for some of the feelings and dynamics between Edward and Will. “They sound fantastical (and) bizarre, but they’re really not when you take a step back and think of how bizarre life really just is in general.”

Runway Theatre- "Big Fish"
(L-R): Jeremiah Brown playing Young WIll rehearses with Tripp Jackson, playing Edward Bloom

Baptiste hopes the play’s message serves to remind audiences about the power of reconciliation and forgiveness, especially when it comes to close family relationships.

“Our hope as a theater is that (audiences will) just walk away with a feeling of a celebration of a life well-lived. Yes, there were challenges, and there certainly were mistakes along the way from everyone’s perspective, but that’s true to life,” Runway Theatre Director of Publicity and “Big Fish” Stage Manager and Assistant Director Amy Jackson said.

“The story is beautiful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s hopeful,” Tripp Jackson said of the play’s celebration of life and the trials and tribulations that come with it. “It’s a roller coaster of emotions, hopefully, that the audience will go on with us.”

The Runway Theatre production of “Big Fish” runs from April 5-21 in Grapevine. For more information, including how to purchase tickets, visit https://www.runwaytheatre.com/.

These interviews have been edited for clarity.


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