Review Roundup: BIG FISH Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
BIG FISH opens tonight, October 6 on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre. The production stars two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz as Edward Bloom, Tony Award nominee Kate Baldwin as Sandra Bloom, and Tony Award nominee Bobby Steggert as Will Bloom.
From five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman, with music and lyrics by Grammy and Tony Award nominee Andrew Lippa, and a book by Grammy and BAFTA Award nominee John August, BIG FISH also features scenic design by Julian Crouch, costume design by William Ivey Long, lighting design by Donald Holder, and sound design by Jon Weston.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: "Wholesomeness gets a bad rap on Broadway these days, usually regarded as the kind of unbearably sweet and inoffensive entertainment that sophisticated theatergoers must endure while taking their conservative grandmas out for a night on the town...But Big Fish, the new musical that tattoos its heart on its arm, displays no fear in plopping its unabashed wholesomeness right in your lap. Its spirit is steeped in Rodgers and Hammerstein decency that propels an evening that's adventurous, romantic and, yeah, kinda hip. That said, the work of Andrew Lippa (score) and John August (book, based on his own screenplay of Daniel Wallace's novel) is not exactly top shelf musical theatre (although on paper Big Fish easily outclasses any original-run Broadway musical currently on the boards) but director/choreographer Susan Stroman, at the top of her game, whips this warmhearted story into a supremely imaginative and heart-tugging entertainment."
Ben Brantley, New York Times: "For a show that celebrates tall tales, "Big Fish" feels curiously stunted. Granted, this movie-inspired musical about a whopper-spinning traveling salesman, which opened on Sunday night at the Neil Simon Theater, is certainly big by most conventional measurements..."Big Fish" fails to forge the crucial connection between its characters and their fantasies. Featuring songs by Andrew Lippa and a book by John August, this musical is about one of those impossible, wonderful, embarrassing fathers whose ghosts have done so much to keep psychiatrists in business...[Susan Stroman] seems to be drawing almost randomly from her bottomless bag of tricks. Yes, her use of dancers to embody an enchanted forest and a campfire is delightful. And it's hard not to chuckle when those two-stepping elephants make a cameo appearance. But if the show is all about the need for personal myths, it has to let its leading mythmaker take charge...Not once did I feel that what I was seeing had been spawned by the teeming mind of Edward Bloom. The show's de facto theme song may advocate "be the hero" of your own life, but somehow "Big Fish" turns everyone into a local-color extra."
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: "When Edward proposes to his future wife, Sandra, hundreds of yellow daffodils sparkle against a clear blue sky.Somehow, though, the effect isn't as dazzling, or as moving, as you would hope -- particularly given the talented players involved in this production, which opened Sunday at the Neil Simon Theatre...Butz, Baldwin and Bobby Steggert, as the grownup Will, all bring a sense of genuine humanity to their roles. In the end, though, this Big Fish lacks the imagination or cohesion to reel you in like one of its hero's yarns."
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: "Resisting the usual Broadway tendency toward over-production, this show is perfectly scaled to the modest level of Edward's boyish daydreams. Invention, not excess, seems to be the dominant house rule, from the tight choreography, which is quick and clever and never over the top, to the primary-color projections by Benjamin Pearcy that make a comic-book universe of Julian Crouch's sets. William Ivey Long captures the playful vibe with ingenious costumes that move in unexpected ways (like the fishtail of a mermaid's silvery costume) and contribute their own magic to the storytelling (like the witches that materialize from the trees in a forest). The main thing missing from this show - and might have taken the edge off its unlikable hero and unpalatable message - is the mystical sensibility that flavors Southern storytelling. Although supposedly set in Alabama, there's not a hint here, musical or otherwise, of the traditional magic found in regional folktales. The kind of magic that might transform a selfish character like Edward Bloom into the hero of his own dreams."
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: "There's a huge gap between what you see and what you hear in "Big Fish." Visually speaking, this new Broadway musical is inventive, playful and often downright magical. But then, we expect nothing less from director Susan Stroman, the whiz behind "The Producers" and "The Scottsboro Boys." Unfortunately, Andrew Lippa's score is a hack job stringing one banal non-tune after another. Every time Broadway takes one step forward musically ("Matilda," "Once"), it takes two back with safe, witless junk like this. Those who heard Lippa's disposable contribution to "The Addams Family" can't say they weren't warned."
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: "The musical slaps on the sentiment with a heavy hand, and given that it's ultimately quite moving, that's no crime. But I couldn't get past fundamental problems with the source material...While the lyrics are more literal than imaginative, not to mention doused in Hallmark syrup, Lippa's score is better than his last show, The Adams Family. It freely mixes old-fashioned Tin Pan Alley with pop, using banjos to evocative effect for a show set in Alabama and Mississippi...But many audiences will lap it up, and nobody's begrudging them that. A lot of loving craftsmanship has gone into this musical, and it delivers satisfying entertainment for those who don't mind being emotionally manipulated."
Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: "Big Fish feels like the show that got away. Adapted by John August from his own 2003 screenplay, the musical is built around the tall-or at least well-stretched-tales of an Alabama-born traveling salesman, Edward Bloom (Butz), who has a penchant for embellishing his life...Yet the show is hobbled by a major flaw: Andrew Lippa's thoroughly mediocre score. The music suggests a cross between familiar, inflated Broadway pop and 1970s AM radio; the lyrics vacillate, sometimes line to line, between banal colloquialism and stiltedness... Big Fish has lovely sequences, and earns some sniffles at the end. But it could have been a real catch."
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: "While acknowledging that the show is about a self-consciously rambling and absurdist hero, the bloated 90-minute Act 1 threatens to derail as visual gags, projections and busy scenes - plus a book that uneasily mixes whimsy and cancer - bombard the senses....Butz proves he's simply in a league of his own, able to switch from middle-aged to teenager in a snap, offering a complex portrait of a Southern man while avoiding good 'ol boy cliches, and he even spends some of the night lying in a hospital bed, not the most expected way to lead a musical. But then there are lots of other fun surprises at "Big Fish," including elephant fannies."
Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: " With the indefatigable, deeply engaged and seemingly irreplaceable Norbert Leo Butz driving its storytelling and willing the show's crucial emotional subtext into being by sheer force of talent and will, "Big Fish" arrives on Broadway as an earnest, family-friendly, heart-warming and mostly successful new American musical. Modestly and movingly scored by Andrew Lippa, "Big Fish" is set in the Deep South and honors that region's love of tall tales without exploiting the Southern stereotypes so common to the genre of musical theater."
Linda Winer, Newsday: "...it's a pleasure to watch [Norbert Leo Butz] engage in the fantastical adventures of both the healthy and the dying Edward Bloom, irrepressible teller of tall stories and bad jokes in "Big Fish." In fact, there are many pleasures in this ambitious but disappointing adaptation of Daniel Wallace's Walter Mitty-esque novel and Tim Burton's 2003 movie about a father's inability to make a truthful connection with his serious son...So it's crushing to realize, early on, that this gentle, sincere, beautiful-looking show is deadly dull. Author John August, who also wrote the screenplay, strings sentimentality and hackneyed picaresque escapades together as if they were equivalent balls on a string. Tension never builds, even when Edward's son Will (Bobby Steggert) tries to unravel the father's secret life."
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: "With his stocky build, short stature, and thinning hair, Butz is an unlikely leading man, but he has the loose-limbed energy and charisma of a young Dick Van Dyke. The radiant Kate Baldwin is underused as his sympathetic wife, though she brings her silken voice to the beautiful second-act ballad, ''I Don't Need a Roof'' - one of the highlights of the mostly tuneful score by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family). Steggert is less compelling as their not-so-likable son, particularly in the problematic second act saddled with several superfluous fantasy numbers and an ending that packs less of an emotional wallop than it should...For the most part, though, Big Fish finds theatrically inventive ways to reel audiences into its central love story. In this case, it isn't boy-meets-girl but father-hooks-son. And Edward Bloom is quite a catch."
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "Norbert Leo Butz, as Edward, is as charismatic as ever in this father-and-son fable, based on Tim Burton's 2003 film about a traveling salesman who tells far-fetched stories...The two-time Tony winner leaps, swaggers and sweats his way through more than two-and-a-half hours of fair-to-middling show tunes with enough visual spice to keep us engaged, if not quite tapping our fingers along in our armrests....Where "Big Fish" gets stuck in the shallows is with its score, by Andrew Lippa ("The Addams Family"). A brash musical demands you leave the theater wanting to buy the cast recording, or at least humming a song. "Big Fish" doesn't, though "Be the Hero," which bookends the production, is catchy enough, in spite of its been-there-heard-that message: you should "be the hero of your own story."
Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: "I doubt Broadway has ever seen a prettier, more sensuously kinetic musical than Susan Stroman's adaptation of "Big Fish" set to music by Andrew Lippa ("The Addams Family.") It's enchanting, especially once it slows down a bit to catch its breath. That doesn't happen until the second act, but it won't matter much, even to fans of the Tim Burton movie (or the Daniel Wallace novel that started it all). When the brooding trees begin their laconic dance before morphing into swamp witches, you know you're watching a Stroman show. By then, we've already fallen under the spell of Edward Bloom, Alabama homeboy, teller of tall tales and creaky jokes, absentee husband and father."
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: "Very early in the new stage musical "Big Fish," director Susan Stroman delivers a splashy ensemble number, "Be the Hero," that effectively introduces us to many of the fantastical characters we know from Tim Burton's 2003 film version and the original novel by Daniel Wallace. The difference, however, between seeing them onscreen or reading about these mythic figures is that when they're forced to sing and dance right off the bat with no introduction, there's a distinct feeling of the wrong kind of déjà vu. Is that Ariel from "The Little Mermaid"? One of the witches from "Wicked"? The circus ringmaster from "Pippin"? And the giant from "Shrek"? Suddenly, they're not archetypes anymore but rather the stars of some "Best of Broadway" theme-park show...The problem is, neither Stroman's staging nor Andrew Lippa's songs expand upon or deepen our understanding of these stock Broadway figures."
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Stroman's dances - tap, waltz, hoedowns - are polished but a bit pedestrian. She's famous for wild imagination, but she serves her "Big Fish" without a showstopper. Lucky for us, she managed to reel in a winner by casting Butz.
Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: As the sequences of Edward's fantasies play out, however, the father-son story is frequently lost in the whimsicality rather than enhanced by it. It's only near the very end, when Will learns what Edward has accomplished and comes to appreciate the value of a man telling stories, that all the elements properly converge.
Matt Windman, AM New York: "The rich, gothic mise-en-scène and seamless transitions of the film are replaced with poor quality songs, a slow pace, excessive sentimentality, one-liners that consistently fail to land, a clumsy structure and an ugly set where video imagery is projected onto what look like barn doors."