New Musical ‘Big Fish’ Brings Tall Tale to Broadway: REVIEW
BY NAVEEN KUMAR
Big Fish, an ambitious and touching new musical based on Daniel Wallace’s novel of the same name and John August’s screenplay for Tim Burton’s acclaimed film, opened on Broadway October 6th at the Neil Simon Theatre. Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman (The Producers), with book by screenwriter August (Big Fish, Go) and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family), the musical tells a moving story of a son seeking the truth about his father, though without quite the coherency and visual mastery of a Burton movie.
Norbert Leo Butz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), leads the cast in a characteristically powerhouse performance as Edward Bloom, the father with a head full of fantastical stories about his life’s adventures. The show opens on his son Will’s wedding day at the family’s Alabama home, with Will (Bobby Steggert) begging his dad to keep quiet at the reception (no dice). A rift forms between father and son, but when they learn Edward is dying of cancer, Will and his wife Josephine (Krystal Joy Brown) return from New York to be by his side.
Prompted by his dad’s illness and his own impending fatherhood, Will sets out to learn the truth behind Edward’s many elaborate stories in an effort to know the man before he dies. Present day scenes are intercut with flashbacks of Edward at story time with his young son, encouraging him to be a hero and make life into an adventure. The stories unfold in colorful production numbers and scenes much like fairytales—with a witch, a mermaid, a friendly giant, and a werewolf circus master among others in supporting roles.
Talent runs in the onstage family, with both Steggert and Kate Baldwin as Edward’s wife Sandra delivering polished and emotionally resonant vocal performances. August does a fine job of adapting the story for the stage, paring back and reworking some of the movie’s more complex elements, whittling it down to manageable size. Yet while Edward’s stories soar to some imaginative heights, Lippa’s score rarely lifts off to match. However wonderfully performed by a cast of theatre pros, the show’s music feels less original than the story it’s trying to tell.
Director-choreographer Stroman pulls off the weighty task of mounting a new musical from (somewhat) familiar material, though perhaps without quite the flourish and precision for which she’s previously been celebrated—for her work on commercial mega-hit The Producers and critical darling The Scottsboro Boys.
In what often feels like a collage of loosely connected parables and tall tales, the father-son story at its center holds this Big Fish together. Whether it’s enough to hold audience attention through a somewhat mixed bag of episodic numbers remains open to question.
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