BWW CD Reviews: Broadway Records' BIG FISH (Original Broadway Cast Recording) Rides on Full Sound and Strong Vocals
The splashy and showy musical adaptation of BIG FISH opened to mixed reviews on Broadway and let its final curtain fall sooner than many expected. With Susan Stroman as both director and choreographer, an excellent father-son reconciliation parable as source material in the form of Daniel Wallace's 1998 novel and Tim Burton's 2003 film, and Norbert Leo Butz and Kate Baldwin headlining, the show was poised to be hit. However, with just one listen to Broadway Records' Original Cast Recording of BIG FISH and the faults that brought this giant to its knees begin to become apparent.
The recording's biggest problem, much like the musical of THE ADDAMS FAMILY, is Andrew Lippa's bland and forgettable score. With a healthy dose of Americana vibrancy and seemingly caught between the worlds of Pop Country and the brassy Broadway of yesteryear, the music swishes and shimmies without missing a step. Unfortunately, it just doesn't stick with listeners. Spinning the disc numerous times over the past week, I simply do not walk away humming any of these tunes except the melody of "Be the Hero," the show's perfectly executed bookends. Unfortunately, Andrew Lippa, who brilliantly wowed me with 2000's THE WILD PARTY, seems to be producing scores with more of a commercial mind than an artistic one these days.
Conversely, what the BIG FISH (Original Broadway Cast Recording) is able to get right stands out as cast album perfection. First and foremost, Mary-Mitchell Campbell leads the vibrant and bold orchestra through Larry Hochman's orchestrations, ensuring that the toes of listeners tap and that we get caught up in the beauty of the big Broadway sound present on the album. In fact, hearing such a unashamedly Broadway orchestra play with such energy is a true triumph and one that is vastly appreciated.
Secondly, two-time Tony award winner Norbert Leo Butz is in his element as Edward Bloom. His indefatigable charisma and charm magnificently suit the role. He sings these often-trite songs with everything he can muster, adding as much depth, emotionality, and life as Andrew Lippa's music and lyrics will allow. Refusing to be stymied by the shallow work, Norbert Leo Butz makes the most of what he has to work with and exudes enough confidence in his own prowess to make believers out of the listeners to the album, especially on numbers like "Daffodils" and "Fight the Dragons."
Lastly, Kate Baldwin as Edward Bloom's love interest and wife Sandra Bloom and Bobby Steggert as Edward's son Will Bloom sing with clarity and exuberance, making their performances enjoyable as well. Their work, like that of Norbert Leo Butz, undermines the lackluster score to make certain that those who listen to the cast album will find the experience pleasurable.
BIG FISH (Original Broadway Cast Recording) makes me hopeful that we'll see a resurgence of Broadway musicals with sizeable orchestras capable of creating full, rich sounds. However, it leaves me nervous that composers will rely on old tricks and stereotypes in hopes that their art will have a larger commercial appeal. It is never a bad thing when art sells successfully and builds a large audience of fans, I just hope in the future the quality of the art will earn these fans based on the merits of the work and not on how easy it is for the producers to bundle and sell it as a pre-packaged product.
BIG FISH (Original Broadway Cast Recording) was released by Broadway Records digitally on February 7, 2014 and physically on February 11, 2014. The album can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.