Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Missing My Dad At Big Fish

One of the wonderful things about theater is that it can touch different people in different ways. I notice that every time I read a review of a new show on Broadway. Sometimes I agree; sometimes not.

I was lucky enough to be able to see the musical Big Fish just a little over a week after it opened and I am glad I don't listen to reviews and snarky people on theater forums. Or better yet - I'm glad I'm able to make up my own mind about shows.

Based on the 2003 film (that was based on a novel), the musical stays very true to the film as it was penned by the same screenwriter John August. That film struck me hard. A story of a father and son was not the film for me to watch the year after my father had passed and I've stayed away from the film ever since. But the themes of that relationship, of true romantic love, and of good 'ol southern people - this former Texan knew I wanted to see what the creative team could do with it to bring it to Broadway. I followed it's journey from the road to Broadway...reading about changes being made, listening to songs, and trying to understand what people were not connecting with in the story.

A father tells tall tales. A son doesn't understand why and gets mad at his dad for always making everything about him. What better way to show those tales than on a Broadway stage? Visually, the show is exciting. From the ever changing sets to the clever projections - to the smart way director Susan Stroman paints those stories. I loved it all. (And one can tell a Stroman signature dance the moment it starts!)

Andrew Lippa has written a modern score that harkens to an old time musical at the same time. As a matter of fact, the entire creative team has created something that feels old and new simultaneously. It feels fresh, yet it is also comfortable. Perhaps that's why I was drawn to this more than other Broadway musicals I've seen recently. (This show and 
2003 Film 2013 Broadway
 Matilda both have huge elements of 'story-telling' as parts of the plot, yet this one pulled me right in.)

The entire cast works so beautifully together. I've never had the pleasure of seeing Kate Baldwin and BOY what I have been missing. A gorgeous voice, a solid performance, and half of a wonderful love story that really hit me. I've always loved Bobby Steggert and he did not disappoint in the role as the son. His is a tough role as the character can come across uncaring, but Steggert handles it so well - I never once found myself upset with him. And when he lets go with a song...I could listen to him sing all night long.

And now my love letter to Norbert Leo Butz. Is there anything this man can't do? I feel I've seen him in so many things since Wicked and no one performing on Broadway today can command a stage like this man can. (And yes, I even saw him in Dead Accounts where he carried the show.) What he does in this musical by playing younger Edward and older Edward...WOW! I am in awe of him. The man sings more than 1/2 of the score and can sell a song like no one else. He caresses words and makes you believe every single thing he says - because you know HE believes it. He brings such zest to the role that I found myself missing my dad all over again (and the man is only two years older than me). 

I would love to debate Ben Brantley on how memories can roll over us quickly. After all, Edward Bloom can't control how fast the stories he has shared over and over are coming out of his mind (and into the eyes of the audience). And if you've seen the film or once you've seen the show - this will make sense. I'd tell Elisabeth Vincentelli of the NY Post (who claims that Matilda's score outshines this one) that Lippa's score is full of varied tunes, beautiful melodies and words I could actually understand what the singers were saying.

But instead of fighting those I disagree with, I'll say thank you. Thank you, Mr. Butz for sharing your talent with audiences in this show. Thank you to the entire cast for feeling the incredible story you are sharing and paying no attention to the nay-sayers out there. Thank you to the creative team and producers that saw that this show deserves to be on stage. Yes, we all bring our own baggage to a show when we see it. But I can't imagine a father or son leaving this show and not feeling a sense of belonging to that fraternity. My father was a salesman like Edward Bloom. And while ten years have passed since I lost him, I sure did miss him tonight. 

Also, Mr. Lippa...I have not wanted to own an original cast album in a while, but man I want this one. 

And I can't wait to return to the Neil Simon Theatre and see it again.


  1. Greg
    Thank you so much for this. I am one of the Producers with Dancing Elephant Prods. and a friend of Kathi's. It's people like you who make my producing worthwhile. The word of mouth has been amazing. And I am glad that the show touched you in such a profound way.


    1. Vincent - I met you back at A Christmas Story (when Kathi & I attended) and YOU bring such wonderful stories to audiences! Thank you so much for continuing to do so. I'm so glad to hear that word of mouth is helping this show. It deserves to be seen by many. (Still can't stop thinking about it this morning.)

  2. Sigh... I agree with you wholeheartedly. I've seen the show twice and will probably go to the closer. I interviewed Daniel Wallace and Andrew Lippa, and I think Norbert is a revelation. I can't believe the show is closing at the end of the year when so many mediocre shows play for years. FEH!

    1. I'll be going back (probably twice) before it closes as well. I've been seeing so many new shows lately and nothing has hit me like this one in a while. Maybe it really is about what we bring with us when watching a show. Too many people are complaining about the score when I want a recording of it.