Fans of Norbert Leo Butz can rejoice. Mr. Butz is starring in the mediocre new musical BIG FISH with a mediocre score by Andrew Lippa and a mixed up book by John August who adapted his Columbia Pictures screenplay based on a novel by Daniel Wallace. It seems that a lot has been lost along the way. Fans of innovative musical theatre may want to go into mourning.
But Mr. Butz certainly works his tail off and exudes energy and charm playing Edward Bloom, a dad dying of cancer in Alabama who tells corny jokes and tall stories while keeping a major secret from his New York reporter son Will played by a fine Bobby Steggert who is about to be married to Josephine (Krystal Joy Brown). Also involved in flashback is Young Will (an adorable Zachary Unger).
The always lovely Kate Baldwin looking like a ravishing Grace Kelly with red hair and who sings like a dream truly loves Edward. The over heavy Act I with production numbers – dream sequences of his tall tales – finally takes hold with the haunting “Time Stops” beautifully staged by Susan Stroman who I am afraid is beginning to become rather stale and repetitious. How many times do we have to see cast members emerging from a car or a TV set for yet another production number? Nothing new here.
If splashy production numbers are what you crave BIG FISH has more than enough. The simple and moving story about a son trying to find the truth, the reality behind his traveling salesman father’s life that has been filled with fantastical stories where he is the hero but holding back the one story that really matters where he is an actual hero doesn’t come together with a Witch, a Giant, a Mermaid, a USO number (where the large onstage band is revealed) and a Western giddy-yap trial where son confronts father.
There is a lot of “stuff” on stage but the production numbers seem “empty” with a true lack of imagination. What should be magical seems overproduced as Edward, in Walter Mitty style, goes from one tale to the next with us caring little about them.
Even the massive and moving projections (Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions) seem at times to upstage the actors and the usually excellent William Ivey Long’s costumes are uninspired – except for the Girl in the Water (Sarrah Strimel).
Andrew Lippa’s score is a collection of styles and for the most part serviceable with some toe tapping infectious music and some moving ballads – “Stranger” for Steggert and “I Don’t Need a Roof” for Kate Balwin.
There is also a Circus, a secret about a second house and its mortgage, another woman, lots of daffodils and a death bed scene. All fantasy (Act I) and then dead serious (Act II) and never the twain doth meet.
At The Neil Simon Theatre.
www.BigFishTheMusical.com Photos: Paul Kolnick
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