Saturday, October 12, 2013

Big Fish **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Had I seen Tim Burton’s 2003 film about Edward Bloom (Norbert Leo Butz), a tall-tale-telling traveling salesman from Alabama and his uneasy relationship with his son Will (Bobby Steggert), I probably would have passed on the musical. The film’s combination of fantasy, whimsy and sentimentality is not a blend I generally seek out. The creative team led by director-choreographer Susan Stroman has made a noble, but largely unsuccessful, effort to adapt the film for the musical stage. The elaborate scenic design by Julian Crouch, colorful costumes by William Ivey Long and complex projections by Benjamin Pearcy provide lots to look at, almost to the point of distraction. The book, by the film’s screenwriter John August, crams too much exposition with too little emotion into the long first act, but improves a bit after intermission. The talented Kate Baldwin as Edward’s wife Sandra gets a nice ballad, but little in the way of a character to develop. Krystal Joy Brown is lovely as Will’s wife, but the point of casting the role with an African-American actor puzzled me. Since the action takes place in Alabama, what, if anything, are we supposed to make of this choice (which is not in the movie)? To me, the music is the main point of a musical. That’s where “Big Fish” really falls short. Andrew Lippa’s music is bland and his lyrics, banal. Butz apparently has a very devoted fan base -- when he first appeared onstage, the applause was thunderous. If you loved the movie and have time and money to burn, there are worse ways to spend an evening. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes, including intermission.

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