Big Fish, a musical based on the 2003 film of the same name, floundered on Broadway when it premiered in 2013; now London's The Other Palace, a theatre with a mission to develop new musicals and reclaim others that haven't had their due, is giving the show its UK professional premiere (it was previously seen in 2015 in a student version at the west London drama school ArtsEd).
Despite re-writes and a much tighter, more intimate production than it received on Broadway, it remains an ambitious muddle of a musical: simultaneously astringent and sentimental, full of weird fantasy sequences that involve giants, mermaids and werewolves, yet also grounded in a poignant story of a son that tries to come to an understanding of his father after he suffers a stroke. This patriarch, an inveterate spinner of tall tales to whose son he has been a constant source of embarrassment, is played in a coup of casting for The Other Palace by Kelsey Grammer, the star of TV's long-running Frasier in his London stage debut.
Grammer has previously proved himself an accomplished Broadway actor, starring in the Broadway transfer of the Menier Chocolate Factory production of La Cage Aux Folles and Finding Neverland, and he has an easy vocal authority on stage and an appropriately crumpled ambiguity to the character's life history. His younger self is beautifully played by the fast-rising Jamie Muscato, who has a dazzling physicality and powerful voice.
Nigel Harman's smart production - featuring atmospheric projections by Duncan McLean that impressively set the scenes - is also graced by tenderly appealing performances from Matthew Seadon-Young as his son, Frances McNamee as his son's wife, and especially Clare Burt as his own loyal wife. Burt's spellbinding rendition of the show's most hauntingly lovely number "I Don't Need a Roof" could just be the best five minutes of musical theatre in London right now.
Unfortunately the rest of the show struggles to achieve the same high level of concentrated theatrical intensity. Yet I'd still suggest you see it; those minutes alone make it worthwhile, but Andrew Lippa's score is worth hearing, too.
Big Fish Tickets are available now.