BWW Interview: Bobby Steggert Talks BIG FISH's Father-Son Themes
"What attracted me to the musical was the bigger picture of the story," said Steggert, who plays Will Bloom, the son of the whopper-telling Edward Bloom (Norbert Leo Butz). "There's a duality and complexity in the show that is big - literally," The storybook musical, choreographed and directed by Susan Stroman, features a veritable eye-candy palate of giant circus performers, a looming witch, menacing forests, wallpaper that turns into a fish-filled river and a mermaid.
"Many shows are bold and big and two-dimensional," Steggert continued. Not so Big Fish, he said. The musical illustrates the older Bloom's flight toward fantasy and away from the realities of daily life and death.
"It's also a meditation on death and loss of a parent," he said.
Steggert, whose character grew up without an attentive or dependably present father, is almost always at odds with him, especially when dad is weaving another one of his endless fantastical fables. "Will is a realist and Edward is the opposite," Steggert said, which is why communication becomes such a complicated, frustrating thing for the both of them.
"I draw a lot of motivation from my own father. He has given me the courage to do what I do," Steggert said. "My father onstage has a troubled, yet ultimately, loving relationship with his son. Edward lives in metaphor, and his weakness is he doesn't know how to deal with what's right in front of him."
What he does know how to do is conjure up dreams and nightmares through the power of his words.
Although Edward keeps secrets from his son, he wants desperately to be a hero in his son's eyes.
"At his best, he is reponsive and aware, but he doesn't value the importance of sharing," Steggert said. "He doesn't know how to communicate honestly with Will, who wants to have a literal sharing of ideas and love."
The musical, with its over-the-top colors and gigantic characters, has a sweetness at the center along with a serious undertone, as Edward grows weaker. "My favorite moments are when everything stops and there's a surprising stillness and intimacy and you could hear a pin drop," Steggert said.
Steggert saw the show from the audience's perspective when the musical was playing in Chicago. In Chicago, he would sneak out during rehearsal to watch the fantasy sequences. "That was very valuable to me to be able to see what the audience sees," he said.
Steggert believes the father/son relationship onstage is honest though flawed. "What grabs me is the very truthful look at different generations and difficulty we have as humans trying to become your own person in this world.
"It's very hard to understand our parents and it's the same with children. In the show there's frustration, a desire for connection and in the end, reconciliation and extreme pride in his father," Steggert added. "It turns out that the most generous thing he ever did he never told anyone about. Edward wasn't prideful, and there's a piece at the end when the son integrates storytelling to his own child.
Steggert hopes that audiences leave the show thinking about their own families and personal relationships. He said he also hopes that Big Fish will inspire audiences to make those relationships work.
BIG FISH is playing at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St. between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.