Big Fish

Written by Richard Barber

A big fish indeed – and in a small pond. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 312-seater, The Other Palace,has landed multi-Emmy winner Kelsey Grammer – aka Dr Frasier Crane from Cheers and its spin-off Frasier – in a stage musical version of Tim Burton’s 2003 film, itself based on Daniel Wallace’s book.
Edward Bloom (Grammer) is on his deathbed and reviewing a life of tall tales mostly designed to entertain his son, Will (Matthew Seadon-Young), although, as we are to discover, also intended to inspire him to think big.

So it is we backtrack down the years, meeting a witch (Landi Oshinowo), a giant (Dean Nolan) and, most entertainingly of all, a circus owner for whom Forbes Masson, in the funniest turn of the night, channels the late Gene Wilder in full Willy Wonka mode. Edward’s eye is also caught by young Sandra (Laura Baldwin), taking three years to track her down before she morphs into his lifelong wife (a rather wasted Clare Burt, although she is given a beautifully sung ballad, I Don’t Need a Roof– her swan song to her dying husband).

It’s a curious piece – part whimsy, part wistful reminiscence – which presents director Nigel Harman (Dennis Rickman in EastEnders) with something of a tightrope act. When it works, it works well, and much of that is down to Grammer, who certainly knows how to own a stage, as they say, but who is out of sight for great tracts of the evening.
I

wanted more of him. In his striped hospital pyjamas, doing a soft-slipper shuffle and growling out his allotted songs, he’s never less than watchable, even if his well-fed, California-tanned person scarcely suggests someone terminally ill. He’s matched by his younger self, played persuasively by Jamie Muscato with a fine tenor voice, and no slouch himself at engaging an audience.

In the end, though, it was all too schmaltzy and too overly sentimental for my tastes, but then I speak as someone who found Forrest Gump ultimately indigestible. And I wasn’t especially taken with Andrew Lippa’s music and lyrics, although Red, White and True had a certain Andrews Sisters sass to it.

I would be failing in my duty, however, if I didn’t report that there was a fair amount of sniffling all around me as Edward finally slipped away, much of which was almost certainly down to Mr Grammer’s lovely, twinkly performance.

Until 31 December at The Other Palace, London SW1; 020-7087 7900, www.theotherpalace.co.uk 

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