Monday, December 16, 2013

Big Fish

Though Big Fish will be closing on December 29, I figured that it was worth a review because its feel-good quality may be the sort of diversion people are looking for during the holiday season.  

Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace (though people may be more familiar with Tim Burton’s screen adaptation), Big Fish tells the story of Edward and Will Bloom, an estranged father and son.  Edward, played by Norbert Leo Butz, has a penchant for telling autobiographical tall tales - full of mermaids, witches, and giants - that constantly aggravate his more practically minded son Will, played by Bobby Steggert.  The musical follows the grown Will as he tries to figure out the truth behind his father’s fantastical stories, while he himself is expecting his own son and Edward’s health is failing.  Despite my issues with some  aspects of the production, I shed some tears at its heartwarming conclusion.  

Norbert Leo Butz is a formidable star and his performance alone makes this production worth seeing.  His changes in physicality for Edward’s life stages and well as his magnetic stage presence carry most of Act I, though perhaps to the detriment of his costars.  Kate Baldwin, who played his wife, was overshadowed quite a bit.  At the particular performance that I attended, it also took Steggert a while to settle into character. 

The show lacked focus at its start, but tightened up towards the end of Act I and moving into Act II.  I felt that some of the production elements, namely the visual projections, hindered the show rather than helped it.  They were particularly distracting and unnecessary in the Witch’s number; Stroman’s choreography alone would have created the desired visual effect.  The story is ultimately about fathers and sons, and I felt that Big Fish fell into a common Broadway trap - just because you can do [fill-in-the-blank-with-a-fancy-expensive-stage-trick] doesn’t mean you ought to.  

It’ll be interesting to track the life of Big Fish past its Broadway closing date.  A cast album is slated for release in February, but I’m not sure how much it will help the brand as Andrew Lippa’s music and lyrics are pop/rock-y cute but not particularly memorable.  If taken on the road, Big Fish will need to tighten its first act so that it doesn’t rely so much on its lead actor.  National tours do not usually feature stars that can draw crowds like Butz,.  Also, the show needs a bit of pruning to make the musical’s narrative theme - that of familial reconciliation - stand out more.  

In spite of my nitpickings, Big Fish is a sweet musical with a lot of heart.  If you're looking for non-holiday themed, but heartwarming entertainment for this time of year, I recommend it.  

Playing at the Neil Simon Theatre, Friend-of-a-Friend Comp Ticket, Center Orchestra Row R

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