The fall season on Broadway is always exciting for all the new productions opening, but the arrival of a brand new musical––especially with an original score by Andrew Lippa––is quite an event indeed! Add to that the direction and choreography of the now legendary Susan Stroman, costumes by the ever inventive William Ivy Long, a clever scenic design by Julian Crouch and three of Broadway’s most desirable musical talents to head the show: Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin and Bobby Steggert. One might think that all the right ingredients have been brought together to make just about the best new musical comedy in a while, but somehow this mixed bag of treats doesn’t quite come together into a completely satisfying whole.
Wanting to like Big Fish is not good enough, but that doesn’t mean the show isn’t worthy of many accolades. There are many clever and surprising things in this entertainment––mostly in the form of Stroman’s collaboration with Mr. Long. What Stroman usually does with props in her dances, she does with the costumes this time around. Stroman is tricky and delivers crowd pleasing visions in that old fashioned way the legendary “Broadway” is famous for––right down to the tap dancing. However, though Mr. Lippa’s score serves the book by John August (who wrote the screenplay for the film on which this musical is based), it is not a memorable score and its jaunty and pleasant tunes dissipate into the air like a blown dandelion.
Mr. Butz dominates the show, heads most of the numbers and he does this very well, but his co-stars are wanting for some good material. Ms. Baldwin, so lovely to listen to in Finnian’s Rainbow a few seasons back, has one lilting lullaby, but nothing truly worthy of her talents to sing. Knowing this talent was at hand, Stroman should have insisted that Lippa write the actress a show stopping ballad––there are multiple reasons why the character might sing a big strong number, which would help the character and show off the talent. Bobby Steggert is absent for most of the play, showing up here and there for small scenes. When, towards the end of the second act when he finally gets some music to sing, it is the silly “What’s Next,” which isn’t funny enough to work as a comedy highlight and isn’t lyrical enough to truly show off Steggert’s voice. His ballad, “Stranger,” somehow doesn’t allow his voice to truly soar, though he has better luck with a reprise of “Be the Hero” for the finale. Still, two great talents are not used to their greatest potential, and yet we are mighty happy they are along for the ride.
The story is comprised of a string of stories told by traveling salesman Edward (Butz), about his fantasy infused past as life lessons to his son, Will (Steggert). His dutiful wife (Baldwin), loves him anyway. This distant father story, told in one vignette after another, makes for an entertaining revue, but can’t quite capture the potential of the emotional core of the story.
This is the kind of show that will have ferocious fans and an equal amount of haters. With the collection of talent at hand it is disappointing that a perfect, glorious, fantastic hit hasn’t been born, but this show has enough merit to keep it going through the season. How it holds up to all the other musical offerings that will open in the spring is the true question. For now the show gets to hold court as the one big new musical on Broadway.
For more information go to www.bigfishthemusical.com.