Theater Review - Big Fish (NY)

It just goes to show ya! You can have the abundant talent of Norbert Leo Butz, who sings, dance and emotes with the enthusiasm of ten men; you can have William Ivey Long, the best costume designer in the world; brilliant scenic design by Julian Crouch –a sea of daffodils dazzled- and Donald Holder’s fabulous lighting, and the genius of Susan Stroman’s direction and choreography, and still fail. The musical “Big Fish” opened three months ago and will close on December 29. A number of people liked it, were moved by it; others found it overly stocked with implausible scenic conceits. I side with the second group.

Based on the novel of the same name by Daniel Wallace and the film screenplay by John August, the musical’s Book is written by August and the Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Herein lie the problems: the Book is too literal for a fantasy and too fantastic for a reality show. The music boasts three good songs out of 18. The theme song, “Be the Hero,” a lovely romantic ballad, “Time Stops,” and a didactic, “Fight the Dragons.” Stroman uses every dance style known to man in this 2 hour and 40 minute exploration of a traveling salesman’s life; a true line does not exist; the music often drowns out the singing and the dying scenes go on forever and ever and ever.

“Big Fish” begins by introducing all the characters in the show from a nudie mermaid (Sarrah Strimel) swimming in an inventive stream in front of the curtain, to a giant named Karl Ryan Andes), from a witch (Ciara Renee) to circus performers a la “Pippin.” There are flying fish, dancing elephants –just their derrieres and a character named Dancing Fire (Bryn Dowling) for a few minutes plus soldiers in red, white and blue, who lend a patriotic flair and don’t seem to belong at all. The main characters return at the end to say a sentimental goodbye to Edward Bloom, who is the centerpiece of the story. Using these characters, he tells tall tales to his son, Will, (Anthony Pierini), who thinks they are implausible. Grown son, Will, is played well by Bobby Steggert, who is competent, but stiff and never seems to smile in any of his roles. Lovely Kate Baldwin is Sandra, Edward’s passionate love and wife. I think she was entirely miscast for the part and looks lost most of the time. This is the fault of Susan Stroman’s directing. Kirsten Scott as Jenny Hill, who suffers from unrequited love, is a delight; she is natural and pretty and understandable.

“Big Fish” will play only through Dec 29, 2013.

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