Gooseberry Park Players is reeling in a whopper of a production for its summer musical this year.
From July 17-22 at MSUM’s Hansen Theatre, more than 85 actors and technicians in the youth theater program present “Big Fish” written by John August and composed by Andrew Lippa.
Many people are familiar with the 2003 film “Big Fish” by Tim Burton. But the stage adaptation is based on the original 1998 novel “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions” by Daniel Wallace and debuted on Broadway in 2013.
The story follows imaginative father Edward Bloom and his more down-to-earth son, Will.
While Will is young and impressionable, Edward entertains him with tall tales about giants, witches and mermaids with such enthusiasm that the stories seem real.
As he grows older, Will confronts his father about the legitimacy of his hyperbolic tales, which sends them on a life-affirming journey toward finding common ground.
“Big Fish” is a humorous and relatable production for everyone as it explores themes of fatherhood, forgiveness and mortality, says Co-Artistic Director Darcy Brandenburg.
“I describe this play as a redemption story between father and son,” he says. “The father sees the world in multicolor while the son sees the world a little more black and white. These different ways of seeing the world causes a lot of conflict in their relationship all the way up to adulthood.”
Co-Artistic Director Lauren Brandenburg adds that although “Big Fish” is not as well-known as other plays the theater group has produced in the past, the organization chose it because of its well-written music and deep character development that enriches the theatrical experience for all students.
“The acting is so much deeper (in this play),” she says. “All of these elements are really good for the kids to dive into.”
Gooseberry Park Players has provided quality theatrical experiences for youth ages 11-18 every summer for the last 30 years. The program is fee-free, giving kids from all backgrounds the opportunity to participate.
“Big Fish” features 47 cast members, 19 volunteer musicians and nearly 40 technicians.
With so many of Edward Bloom’s tall tales to portray, Darcy Brandenburg says the play is a creative, yet technical “tour-de-force.”
“There are so many different technical elements that our crew has to do, whether it’s shooting someone out of a cannon, having someone fall from the sky or making daffodils rain from the ceiling,” he says.
Joey Wilhelmi, a Fargo South High School senior who plays Edward Bloom and works on the tech crew, says the technical challenges provide good learning opportunities for all students involved in the production.
“What I love about this production is being able to play this bigger-than-life character who tells these stories,” Wilhelmi says. “I want to convey that to the audience and bring them into the show so they love it as much as I do.”
Moorhead High School senior Josie Cass shared similar sentiments. She plays a mermaid in the production, among other roles, and says “Big Fish” is one of the “best shows” she’s done because she gets to combine her love for dance and theater in one production.
Overall, Darcy and Lauren Brandenburg are looking forward to telling this heartfelt story and seeing the impact “Big Fish” will have on the young actors and the audience.
“It’s a story that kids will reflect back on, especially as they deal with harder adult issues, like the death of a loved one,” Darcy Brandenburg says.
Lauren Brandenburg warns attendees to have the tissues ready.
“You will not leave with a dry eye,” she says.
For more information about Gooseberry Park Players or to purchase tickets to “Big Fish,” visit www.gooseberryparkplayers.org.
If You Go
What: Gooseberry Park Players presents “Big Fish”
When: 7:30 p.m. July 17-21; 1 p.m. July 22
Where: Hansen Theatre in MSUM’s Roland Dille Center for the Arts
Tickets: $10-16. Visit www.gooseberryparkplayers.org/tickets or call 218-477-2271.
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, July 16, 2018.