Friday, October 25, 2013

Broadway Theater Review: Big Fish

Kate Baldwin and Leo Norbert Butz. Photo: Paul Kolnik
The Story Gets Lost in a Sea of Big-Splash Effects
By Lauren Yarger
The latest attempt to turn a movie into a Broadway musical has landed a little like a fish out of water.

Big Fish tries to make a big splash with 19 songs by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family), big-number choreography by Director Susan Stroman and amazingly complex sets and costumes (designed by Julian Crouch and William Ivey Long), but all of the over-the-top action drowns out the really good story of a frustrated young man trying to get to know his big-tale-telling father before it's too late.

Edward Bloom (Norbert Leo Butz) and his son, Will (Bobby Steggert), never have had a great relationship. A traveling salesman, Edward wasn't around much and when he was, he was full of exaggerated stories. No longer a little boy (the young Will's role is shared by Zachary Unger and Anthony Pierini), Will wants to know the real story about who his dad is.

In Edward's stories, he always is the hero, saving his hometown from a giant (Ryan Andes), a witch (Ciara Renee) or a bully (Ben Crawford). The most beautiful woman, of course, is Will's mom, Sandra (Kate Baldwin) -- except in one. That one is about Edward's high school sweetheart, Jenny Hill (Kirsten Scott), whose name shows up for real in a mysterious document.

Will's new wife, Josephine, (Krystal Joy Brown), announces that they are expecting a son and when Edward's health starts to deteriorate, Will decides it is time to find the truth about his Dad and Jenny.

All of Edward's fantastic stories are brought to life in minute detail with a cast of characters, including, among many, many, many many others, a mermaid (Sarrah Strimel), the fortunetelling witch and  her backup chorus of twirling swamp creatures), a bunch of cheerleaders, a human canon ball, dancing elephants and even the big fish that got away....

Long gets to use some of his color-changing fabric magic again (see Cinderella, also running on Broadway) with lighting (David Holder, design) and projection enhancement (Benjamin Pearcy for 56 Productions, design) that produce breathtaking effect. It, with the Stroman-signature choreography ( a chorus line of dancing swamp things and a dancing campfire?)  eclipses the book by John August, who adapts his screenplay from the 2003 movie starring Robin Williams, which was based on Daniel Wallace's novel.

Some questions arise in the parts of the story that we do catch like:

  • In a scene where a kid in the woods discovers a bug in his pants and his companions shine their flashlights on his shoes to coax it out. Don't bugs usually run from the light?  
  • Jenny says Edward hasn't returned to their hometown since he left, yet she knows Will's name 
  • The villagers are afraid of a giant, but the giant is agoraphobic and afraid to come out of his cave so how do they know he's there?
  • What are the names of Will's wife and mother? When I sat down to write this review, I couldn't remember. I'd lost them somewhere in the avalanche of visual stimulation and cool sound effects (Jon Weston, design).
  • Good heavens, there is still a second act to come? (This was my thought at about one hour and 15 minutes in when I realized we hadn't even come to intermission yet in the interminable collection of songs and scene changes.)

Lippa's twangy tunes are mostly not memorable, with some distracting orchestrations by Larry Hochman, but it is always a treat to hear Baldwin, who has one of the finest voices on Broadway, sing anything on a New York stage. Steggert lends his strong voice to his songs and a solo, "Stranger" is particularly nice.

Big Fish splashes at the Neil Simon Theatre 250 West 52nd St., NYC. For tickets and info: http://www.bigfishthemusical.com/. You can view a sneak peek video there to see some of the action.

Christians might like to know:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Scantily clad actress
-- The witch uses a crystal ball to predict Edward's fate.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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