Yes, it’s been a while since my last post, but I came back just in time for a brand new splashy Broadway musical to make its debut. At long last Susan Stroman has made her return to Broadway, and she brought the award-winning talents of Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin and Bobby Steggert along with her. Their vehicle for the fall season? “Big Fish”!
“Big Fish” is based on the 2003 movie of the same name. The fantasy film featured Albert Finney as Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman with a slew of tall tales at his disposal, but who is now nearing his last days; and Billy Crudup as his no-nonsense son Will who is trying to make sense of his rickety relationship with his father. Bloom regales his son with seemingly far-fetched yarns from his earlier, more youthful days. (Ewan McGregor plays the younger Edward Bloom. Jessica Lange stars as Sandra Bloom; Danny DeVito, Steve Buscemi, Helena Bonham Carter and others round out the cast of characters from the elder Bloom’s colorful past.)
I’ve never seen the movie, but I’ve read about its more fantastical elements and was worried how the creative team might be able to translate it to the stage. I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the show. I had plans for a long-drawn out post, but why not just hit the major points?
1) The cast. I was quite frankly blown away by the level of talent on display here. I’ve never seen Kate Baldwin (Sandra Bloom) or Bobby Steggert (Will Bloom) live before, and left positively adoring both of these actors. Norbert Leo Butz (Edward Bloom) proves again that he can do no wrong. Norbert and Kate’s roles are especially challenging, as they have to shift seamlessly from past and present, old and young. (In the film, there were different actors playing the younger and older versions of Edward and Sandra.)
The supporting cast deserves equal recognition here, with Brad Oscar showing off some comedic chops as Amos Calloway, Ciara Renee providing some astonishing vocals as the Witch, and Ryan Andes who commands the stage as the affable giant, Karl.
2) The set and projections. The show relies heavily on projections. I will admit that it was a distraction in some cases, but in others the effect was absolutely stunning — especially in the number “I Know What You Want,” in which the Witch foreshadows Edward’s future. At one point in the second act, ensemble member Bryn Dowling quickly transforms from a patriotic chorine into a crackling campfire with the help of the projections and her flowing dress. Incredibly inventive and the audience thought so too.
3) Choreography. The second act opener, “Red, White and True,” was quintessential Susan Stroman, and by that I mean a line full of leggy, tap-dancing chorus girls in red, white, and blue outfits parading down a staircase. The orchestra, which is onstage, is also revealed in this number to enthusiastic response.
4) The story. The production isn’t perfect, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that you could hear sobs from a good portion of the audience during the final scenes of the show — it’s that touching of a story. I can totally see this being a production that men would enjoy without having to be dragged in by their wives. My relationship with my father isn’t problematic at all, but I could still see shades of my childhood and my interactions with him throughout the show. I think others will feel the same way.
I had the opportunity to participate in a post-show Q&A session with Kate Baldwin and Bobby Steggert. It was great to hear about their journey with the show, how things changed since out-of-town performances, and the little anecdotes about their personal experiences growing up and how they relate to the show on that level.
I really want to see the show again. I saw it so far into previews that I don’t think anything major changed, but I still want to see it again. If you enjoy an insanely talented ensemble cast, gorgeous sets, and a touching story that will likely leave you a little moist around the eyes, I’d recommend that you see it too!