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'Big Fish' a lovely piece of Americana at The Barn in Willmar

Clay Conover / Tribune "Big Fish" is in its second week on-stage at The Barn Theatre in downtown Willmar. The musical production runs through June 18.

The Barn Theatre in Willmar presents the musical "Big Fish," based on the 2003 movie at 7:30 p.m. today-Saturday and June 15-17 with 2 p.m. matinees Sunday and June 18.

It tells the story of Edward Bloom, a father and husband resented by his grown son for never being around. Now Edward and Will need to move past their misunderstandings before it's too late.

"Big Fish" is about family and friends, offering romance, comedy and even fight scenes. That being said, numerous reasons follow why you should hurry and see this show.

First, the songs are catchy and engaging. "Be the Hero" has Edward, played by Andrew Benson, and company rollicking. Jordan Gatewood, who plays the Giant, sings "Out There On the Road" in a country stomp.

"Red, White and True" has women tap dancing and harmonizing like the Andrews' Sisters with a Benny Goodman-type clarinet solo. Small Will, played heartwarmingly by Adam Schiller, doubts the truth of his dad's stories, but in "Fight the Dragons" his dad sings, "I'll fight the dragons 'til you can."

One of the most beautiful songs is sung by Kellie Wright, who plays Edward's wife, Sandra. When an ill Edward starts to worry about her taking care of the house, Wright sings "I Don't Need a Roof" with not only the warm, maternal presence she possesses throughout the show, but also boundless grace, ending with a heart-breaking, "Stay with me."

Second, all the parts that make a musical special are strong.

Nikki Bettcher Erickson directs with a sure hand: her imprint is seen on the acting as well as the tiny details.

Claire Schiller choreographs well, especially in songs like "Red, White and True," and in "Just Another Look" where the witch, played by Jenny Oakes, and women move sinuously and catlike.

David Najjar, the vocal and music director, has the company singing close harmonies and the pit strong and nuanced.

Several Barn Theatre regulars deserve a mention: Molly Tengwall playing Will's wife and Tim Ostby stealing the show as the circus ringleader Amos Calloway.

But Benson inhabits a tour de force role with amazing presence, singing and power. He plays Edward believably, from a young man graduating from high school all the way to an almost-grandfather. Edward Bloom is a man who tells stories with a larger-than-life force and Benson imbues him with power. Finally, Benson has an incredible tenor voice and sings song after song after song. This is the role of a lifetime and Benson grasps it with both hands.

Next, the musical is not simply an empty-headed piece of fluff but has amazing lyrics that follow several of the themes.

Will, played by John Loomis, sings about his father, "I worry that my father will be gone and I'll never know what's true," resenting his father for his absences and his fantastical tales.

The musical deals with the power of stories: "If you understand the stories, you understand the man." And finally, "Big Fish" advocates embracing and loving friends, family and ourselves, ""Be the hero of your story and the world will be yours."

Lastly, see the show because your neighbors and friends perform so well in it. Come and see this lovely piece of Americana, whimsical and moving.

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