The movie "Big Fish" was filmed in Alabama using locals as secondary actors and extras. Now, the theatre version will be directed by an Alabama product, Leigh K. Rawls, from Montgomery.

While the famed Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre will not have "curtain up" until August 2024, the arrangements, casting and marketing are proceeding now. The first step is to get a director. Leigh Rawls. Done.

This will not be Leigh Rawls' first experience with "Big Fish." Twenty years ago, she was an extra and background when the movie version was filmed in Alabama. The middle school student was getting her start in theater at Montgomery's Booker T. Washington Magnet School and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

Leigh Rawls is now experienced in theater. The blue-eyed ash blonde played the lead role of Marilyn Monroe in "Bombshell: The American Musical" in 2018. The better-known of her roles in over a dozen musicals include The Ghost of Christmas Past in "A Christmas Carol," Missy Hart in "9 to 5: The Musical," Joanie Lish in "The Full Monty" and lead role in "Poltergeist." 

She performs parts in the 25-45 age range.

Rawls is now a graphic designer by day and an actress, director and Renaissance woman by night based in Washington, D.C.

Rawls says she is "passionate about graphic design, film and video production, photography, and theater."

"I'm an extrovert most of the time and tend to feed off the energy in a room," she said. "Because of this, I like to surround myself with those who are confident, happy, talented, goal-oriented, and love life, as I do, so that I can thrive and always be encouraged to improve myself and my skills."

Penny Weaver, a public affairs consultant in Montgomery, said, "How appropriate that a Montgomerian is directing this play."

Rawls continued, "When I'm not working, I'm an actress, artist, and outdoor enthusiast. I love hiking, skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, playing in the rain and all that fun stuff! I also enjoy being on stage at local community theaters, and showing my art pieces at a local gallery or house show. I also get a kick out of traveling, playing music, finding cocktails I've never tried before, listening to local indie bands at small intimate venues, outdoor concerts, volunteering with local humanitarian groups, animal shelters, Habitat for Humanity, watching movies, and, most especially, trying things I've never done before."

"Big Fish" was known as a book and a movie before it became a Broadway play. The book, "Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions," by Daniel Wallace, tells the fictitious story of Edward Bloom, a lifelong teller of tall tales. Edward's incredible, larger-than-life stories thrill everyone around him—most of all, his devoted wife, Sandra. But their son Will, turned off by a tale his father told at Will's wedding, is determined to find the truth behind his father's epic tales. Or the untruth. Therein lies the plot line of "Big Fish."

The book became a movie with screenwriter John August. His early negotiations for production included big names: Columbia Pictures; Steven Spielberg as director; and Jack Nicholson for the lead role of Edward Bloom. None of that worked, and production proceeded with Tim Burton and Richard Zanuck.

Except for one week in Paris, it was filmed entirely in Alabama – Wetumpka, Tallassee, Jackson Lake Island and Montgomery. The Montgomery scenes included historic Old Cloverdale and the Huntingdon College campus.

An artificial set for a major part of the filming was built on Jackson Lake on the banks of the Alabama River near Millbrook in Elmore County. The set is still there. It depicted the fictitious town of Spectre, where tall tales by Edward Bloom were set.

Alabama weather intervened during the filming with a storm and a flood on the set.

Other Alabama towns were fictitious, including Ashton. One place was very real: Auburn University.

The film premiered in December 2003 with general release in January 2004. It was a modest box office success.

The film became a stage version, a musical, in 2013. It played on Broadway, Long Beach, CA, Pittsburgh, Munich, Glasgow, Australia, London, Sweden, Norway and Belgium.

Now, it comes to Annapolis, Maryland, with Leigh Rawls as its director. 

The stage version is overflowing with heart and humor. "Big Fish, the musical," reminds us why we love going to the theater — for an experience that is richer, funnier and bigger than what we can absorb from a book or movie.

The Annapolis Summer Garden Theater is considered a regional venue of the Washington, DC metro area. It has a unique setting, outward appearance, and design. It sits on the waterfront beside the bay in Annapolis, the capital city of Maryland and the home of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Details and ticket information are online at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.

Rawls' father is Phillip Rawls of Montgomery, a lecturer on journalism at Auburn University and a long-time political reporter for the Associated Press and the Montgomery Advertiser.

Rawls commented on Facebook: "My wife and I are excited that our daughter, Leigh K. Rawls, will be directing the musical 'Big Fish' at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater in Maryland in 2024. The landmark theater is a wonderful attraction on the waterfront in Annapolis. It presents three musicals each summer during the tourist season."

Updates on the production and groups in Alabama organizing to go to Annapolis for the play will be published on

Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].

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