Big Fish’ a big splash on Broadway
The new Broadway show “Big Fish” begins with a grandiose musical number featuring a witch, a giant, a mermaid and a slew of dancers in flashy costumes. A jubilant father with a thick Southern accent sings to his rational-minded young son about the importance of being “the hero of your own story.” He then does a jig that compels dozens of fish to shoot out of water.
It’s spectacular. It’s over-the- top. Simply put, it’s the perfect way to start the production.
Not only does the number capture the show’s essence, it also exemplifies why we go to the theater. Broadway is the place where jaded eyes light up at the sight of the impossible occurring before them.
Enthralled in a play, we escape from the real world by entering a gleeful one where anything can happen. It’s the place to suspend skepticism, if only for a little while, and believe in magic.
Preserving magic in the face of reality is what “Big Fish” is all about. Inspired by the 2003 film and Daniel Wallace’s novel upon which it is based, the musical centers on Edward Bloom, a larger-than-life man looking to keep magic alive in his son Will’s life. He regales his boy with tales of how he befriended a giant and swam with a mermaid. But serious Will doesn’t believe them, and after growing up and expecting his own child, he resents his father for hiding who he truly is behind his stories. And now that Edward is dying, Will may never really know him.
The play moves seamlessly through time periods of Edward’s life and alternates so fluidly between his stories and reality that it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what isn’t. But the story is never confusing, which is a testament to the direction of Susan Stroman. The songs by Andrew Lippa are also phenomenal, especially the opening “Be the Hero.”
John August’s book is utterly extraordinary, blending family drama with music, comedy and fantasy. And the way it is brought to life by the cast is truly special. Maplewood’s own Norbert Leo Butz, who plays Edward, shows why he’s a Broadway icon, capturing the character’s ebullience while also revealing his vulnerability. His interactions with Bobby Steggert (Will), certainly a star on the rise, form the heart of the production, as Will tries to unravel the mystery of who is father really is and why he tells such tall tales. Also exceptional are Kate Baldwin as Edward’s wife, Sandra, and Anthony Pierini as young Will.
The show’s climax is heartbreaking, and I know I heard a few sniffles in the audience. But in the end we realize what Edward has been saying all along is true – we are never too old to believe in magic. We can be the heroes of our stories. We can be the big fish in our ponds.
Sean Quinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.