Monday, October 7, 2013

Review of "Big Fish"

Rejoice, Broadway audiences!  Norbert Leo Butz is back on the musical stage in the imaginative and fanciful show, Big Fish.  Leo Butz is not the sole motivation for seeing the show, but he is the main reason.  His singing voice is first-rate, his dancing superb, and acting sublime.  When he helms the stage, theater magic. 

Big Fish is based on the novel and movie of the same name.  It tells the story of Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman who, throughout the years, has regaled his son, Will, with tales of derring-do, the improbable, and the romantic.  During his formative years, young Will had rejected his father’s stories as nothing more then figments of his rather large imagination, a poor substitute for a boy growing up most of the time without a father around.  Now grown, about to be married and a child on the way, Will finally looks to exorcise and confront his parent’s legacy just as one final chapter is about to be written.

One of the strengths of Big Fish is the fantastic and diverting tales told by Edward (Norbert Leo Butz).  They are strikingly brought to life with imaginative story-telling, playful and dreamlike sets, rear screen projections, and costumes.  There’s the time Edward encountered a witch in the swamps, befriended a giant, wrangled with an assassin during a World War II USO show, two-stepped a school of fish right out of the water, and was shot out of a canon hundreds of miles.  The stories, Will (played by Bobby Steggert) eventually learns, were not some aimless meanderings, but purposeful chronicles meant to inspire a doubting, questioning young man.

Norbert Leo Butz is the focus of Big Fish, playing Edward Bloom through many stages of his life.  His character, a dreamer and romanticist, leads us through a giddy ride until the melancholy finale.  Leo Butz’s energy and passion easily give him the moniker of hardest working actor on Broadway.  Kate Baldwin, as his wife, Sandra, is captivating and beautiful with an enchanting voice.  Her role may not be as well-developed as her co-star, but her matter-of-fact demeanor perfectly balances his more rambunctious predilections.  Bobby Seggert’s Will is serious and overly rational, a more one-dimensional character, who’s presence and earnestness adroitly balances his more capricious father. Others deserving mention are Ryan Andes as the giant, Karl; and Brad Oscar as the ringmaster, Amos Calloway.

The score by Andrew Lippa is solid without any memorable numbers.  Still, the songs can be touching, boisterous, full of heart and, more importantly, help to move the storyline along.

The costumes by William Ivey Long, primarily in Act I, are playful as well as otherworldly and further the overall whimsical nature of the production. 

For the sets, Scenic Designer Julian Crouch and Projection Designer Benjamin Pearcy have collaborated to conceive wondrous creations that fully complement each other.  I am not a fan of projection systems.  Too often they call undue attention to themselves, but with Big Fish the synergy is perfectly matched.

Director/choreographer Susan Stroman provides a sure hand in guiding the musical through its paces.  Whether in large scale production numbers or in tender moments she carefully paces the show up to its emotional finale.  As with other shows she has worked on, a touch of whimsy pops up.  This time with an elephant dance routine.

Big Fish—a big hit, now playing at the Neil Simon Theatre.

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