Big Fish

So here’s the thing about Big Fish. There are some truly beautiful, magical moments in the show. But it’s Too. Damn. Long. The effective moments end up buried in the length and overshadowed by it. I want to sit down with the creative team and say: I know it’s like getting rid of your children, but you have to cut these songs down. That extra 20-30 minutes can make or break a show. Note: they are still in previews, so I’m curious to see how it changes come the October 6th opening.

Running approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, the show, for the most part, follows the plot of the film (I never read the book). Big Fish is about Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman with a big imagination, and his relationship with his son, Will. Edward raised his son with the most fantastical stories about his past, and Will, now grown with a kid of his own on the way, feels like he doesn’t actually know his father. Who is the real man behind all the stories? Who is his dad if all his tales are lies? I saw the movie once or twice when it was first released in 2003, and it has stuck with me over the years. Yes, maybe that’s because Ewan McGregor was beautiful in it, but regardless, I have always remembered it striking a chord.

It cannot be denied that the production is well-cast. I see Norbert Leo Butz (Edward) in everything he does, and I’m a big fan of Kate Baldwin (his wife, Sandra). She has a voice that simply soars, and I wish they gave her more to do in the show. Norbert, on the other hand, doesn’t get a break. He is in practically every scene, singing countless songs, and covering the ages of 18 to 58. It’s a marathon, no question. Bobby Steggert is also great as Will, but I wanted more depth in the writing of his character.

There is some lovely work happening at the Neil Simon theatre. The design is beautiful, the staging clever, and the lighting magical. I was so excited in the first 20 minutes. It was eye candy, funny, and there was a step number near the beginning! But they need to pick and choose the stories, trim down the setup, and even cut full numbers in some cases. This would help the flow and keep up the momentum, and then more focus could come back to the emotional relationships.

Like Will, who feels he can’t connect to his father because his life is so over-the-top, I had a similar experience trying to connect to the show. What it comes down to is this: I think this story is about a father and a son. Yes, there are all of these amazing, fantastical stories that monopolize most of the plot, but ultimately it is about the father/son relationship. This is the part that I don’t think the production highlights as effectively as it could. We primarily see Edward interact with his son when he’s a young boy, but in his few scenes with adult Will, they just have the same fight over and over. Where’s the duet? Sing a song! Build that tension for real (not with a completely out of place Western number in Act II), and the end will be all the more heartbreaking.

Big Fish
Written by Andrew Lippa and John August, Directed by Susan Stroman
Neil Simon Theatre through December 29th
Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik
Pictured: Kate Baldwin and Norbert Leo Butz

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