When Paul Garman (Musical Theatre West’s executive director/producer) saw “Big Fish” on Broadway last fall, it was so outstanding he called it “magical.”

Indeed, he knew he had to bring it home to Long Beach. And so, being the inimitable musical theater executive that he is, this astonishing, award-winning, “magical” musical opened last Saturday before a sold-out audience in the Carpenter Center.

Not only is it the first time a production of “Big Fish” has been seen west of the Mississippi, Garman himself flew to New York to personally arrange for MTW to have the sets and costumes from the original Broadway show.

Before we go any further, we want to underscore one fact: This is not the Tim Burton movie version of Daniel Wallace’s book! It’s the John Wallace/Andrew Lippa musical theater production — as directed and choreographed on Broadway by the brilliant, multi-talented, Susan Stroman.

As we entered, I admitted to several colleagues, “I can’t imagine how they’ll do it! After all. it’s a day-dreamer’s vision of life — complete with witches, mermaids, dragons, giants in caves, clowns in the circus; even a flooded town! The anti-hero (the musical’s protagonist) also gets shot out of a canon.”

Speaking of main characters, Jeff Skowron is a phenomenon. As Edward Bloom, the play’s lead, Skowron is on stage every minute. He ages from a high school teenager in love with Jenny, the head cheerleader; then he passes through one dramatic phase after another until he’s an older adult man, dying from brain cancer. In a word, he’s “terrific.”

So is Andrew Huber, as Will (his adult son who questions his father about all the wild, impossible stories he’s been told); Kristina Miller as Sandra (the love of Edward’s life; the girl he was determined to marry and cherish until he died); and Jude Mason (who plays Will as a young boy).

As usual, the entire MTW cast is right on target. That includes Timothy Hughes (Karl, the giant); Kristina Miller (Will’s devoted wife); Gabriel Kalomas (the circus ringmaster); Zachary Ford (Edward’s arch nemesis); Michelle Loucadourx (Jenny); Molly Gardner (the Witch); and Marisa Field (the Mermaid).

By intermission I was eating crow; which proves, once again, that everyone must always enter the magical world of theater with a wide-open mind. Under the superb direction of Larry Carpenter; with musical direction by Matthew Smedal, choreography by Peggy Hickey (following Storman’s footsteps), video projection by John Infante, and technical direction by Kevin Clowes, magic indeed takes place — touching everyone with its simple truth: “Believe in your dreams.”

Put another way: When Life is lived with a sincere Faith and Love — augmented by Trust, Time, Desire and Imagination — that float through Dreams, Determination, Courage, and Purpose — what more could anyone ask? Moving on is painless.

We don’t want to spoil the ending by telling you what happens. Let’s simply say, each person who sees this soulful, heartfelt musical can spread the magic.

Tickets to “Big Fish” are available in certain sections with a $10 discount. Call 856-1999 or visit www.musical.org and use the code Mermaid. Performances continue through Nov. 16.

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