by Jared, Concierge
The most anticipated musical of the fall season is easily the Broadway bow of Big Fish, the stage adaptation of the novel and Tim Burton film by the same name. The kind of big budget spectacle that is only possible on the Great White Way, the show features a bevy of Tony-winning talent both onstage and off, meaning expectations (including my own) are very high. Thankfully, the show delivers on all fronts, finding the perfect combination of comedy and pathos to become one of the most entertaining and emotionally moving new musicals of the year.
Big Fish centers around the charismatic travelling salesman Edward Bloom, who charms everyone around him by telling fanciful stories about his life involving witches, giants, and mermaids as if they are fact. The only person who seems immune to Edward’s charm is his grown and somewhat resentful son Will, who has recently married and is about to start a family of his own. When Will receives a call from his mother Sandra that Edward has been diagnosed with a potentially terminal cancer, Will rushes back to his family’s Alabama home to try and uncover the truth about his father’s life before it’s too late. Along the way we are treated to stunning reenactments of Edward’s greatest adventures, as the show examines how fact becomes legend and whether that distinction is truly important at all.
The heart and soul of Big Fish is two-time Tony-winner Norbert Leo Butz and his towering portrayal of Edward Bloom. Butz, who seamlessly plays Edward from childhood through old age, proves once again that he is one of the greatest musical theatre performers of his generation. He combines the magnetic stage presence of a leading man with the finely honed comic timing of a lifelong character actor in a bravura turn that is certain to land him among this year’s Best Actor nominees. Rarely leaving the stage, Butz commands your attention from the show’s opening moments until its bittersweet finale, and his performance demands to be seen.
If you can manage to take your eyes off Butz you will find that the rest of the cast is equally gifted, especially Tony-nominee Kate Baldwin as the love of Edward’s life, Sandra. With a crystalline voice and winning smile, Baldwin’s Sandra is a fully-realized individual that is the perfect counterpoint to Edward’s theatricality. The actress’s chemistry with Butz is outstanding, and many of the show’s most memorable moments are the ones shared by these two supreme talents. The ballad “Time Stops,” describing the moment when the two first laid eyes on one another, is breathtaking in its simplicity, and their duet “Daffodils” closes out the first act on an unabashedly romantic high note.
Rounding out the central trio is Bobby Steggert as Will Bloom, who acquits himself quite nicely in a rather tricky role. Due to years of perceived neglect, Will is often openly hostile towards his father, who thanks to Butz’s portrayal is easily the most charismatic character onstage. The fact that Steggert manages to convincingly play Will’s anger without becoming wholly unlikable is a testament to the young actor’s skill, and he does an excellent job with his two big solos.
Big Fish is directed and choreographed by five-time Tony-winner Susan Stroman, whose illustrious career includes helming the megahit musical The Producers. Stroman handles this incredibly complex show with ease and ingenuity, expertly shifting between the elaborate production numbers and the more intimate character moments. Stroman has always known how to craft a showstopper, and her work on Edward’s tall tales displays a delightful sense of witty playfulness while still giving the audience the kind of Broadway razzle dazzle they expect from a show of this size. Particular highlights include the fantastic opening number “Be the Hero” and her wonderfully cheeky choreography for the USO-inspired Act II opener “Red, White, and True.”
The entire show is visually stunning, from the sets and costumes to the incredible projection and lighting design. Only the most jaded theatregoers won’t be impressed with the craftsmanship on display, and the show continually astounds with a nonstop parade of theatrical magic. Although the show has some more serious moments, it is the definition of a crowd-pleaser, highly entertaining and immensely funny. The weightier subject matter may be a bit much for younger children, but the colorful fantasy sequences are sure to delight older children and adults alike, making this an excellent option for families as well. I recommend that everyone buy their tickets today, as I suspect this could soon join Wicked, Kinky Boots, and The Book of Mormon as one of the hottest tickets in town.