Producer Dan Jinks Relives the Triumphs and Tears of BIG FISH's Journey to Broadway
Television and film producer Dan Jinks, the man behind such hits as Milk, Pushing Daisies and American Beauty, learned a valuable lesson when Big Fish closed after a four-month run on Broadway last year: a few bad reviews can mean the end of a ten-year dream.
Jinks spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the trials and tribulations of creating a new Broadway musical (check out his full piece here), including the challenges of casting a well-known actor in the lead role and finding a theatre to house the show - as well as the triumph of a standing ovation on opening night.
"Audience members still had tears in their eyes from the emotional last 15 minutes of the show. I had tears in my eyes because I knew how long it took to get to that moment," Jinks said. "It was one of the greatest nights of my life."
The process began in 2003, Jinks said, when screenwriter John August proposed the idea of making Big Fish a musical during a press junket for the film of the same name.
The next few years saw Jinks and August searching for a songwriter; once Andrew Lippa came on board, they collaborated until they had a show that they felt was ready to be brought to potential directors. Susan Stroman, their top pick, joined the team, and the group began the casting process.
"Finding the right star to play Edward Bloom turned out to be a more difficult part of the process," Jinks told The Hollywood Reporter. In the film, the lead part is shared between actors Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor - but in the musical, one actor has to carry the role.
Jinks and his team needed an actor who could act and sing well enough to do the work of two people - and, for a while, it looked like Hugh Jackman was their man.
"The reaction to the show at that first reading was extraordinary," Jinks said of Jackman's work. "Suddenly this show - which, at times, had felt like a very expensive hobby - was feeling very real."
Jackman backed out in the end, and while Michael C. Hall did a reading, he was already committed to the television show Dexter. Broadway veteran and two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz eventually landed the lead role.
"Ultimately, we convinced ourselves that we didn't need a big Hollywood name," Jinks said. "The show itself would be the star."
Two of the biggest challenges Jinks faced were raising money and finding the right theatre to mount Big Fish. The help and guidance of a co-producer and a fortuitous visit from members of the Nederlander Organization, which manages serveral of Broadway's theatres, solved those problems.
"Nick Scandalios and Jimmy Nederlander... came to a reading and fell in love with the show," Jinks said. "They committed the Neil Simon Theatre, one of Broadway's best houses, many months before our opening night."
Despite what Jinks saw as a succesful opening night, and despite several positive reviews, Big Fish received several disappointing reviews, one from the ubiquitous New York Times. Even after an advertising push, the team decided the show would have to close early.
"I flew from L.A. to New York to tell the cast... that Big Fish would close at the end of the year. That was one of the toughest things I've ever had to do," Jinks said. "We did everything we could think of to keep the show going."
After ten years of planning, Big Fish was closing after only four months. It typically takes a Broadway musical at least a year to earn back the money spent on its production.
"People who had seen the show were confused as to why it was closing early," Jinks told The Hollywood Reporter. "Frankly, I still find it confusing, and I saw the numbers."
Still, Jinks said he would do it all over again.
"I loved this experience, and I'm incredibly proud of the show," he said.
For Jinks's full account of his experience producing Big Fish on Broadway, head over to The Hollywood Reporter.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos