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BWW INTERVIEWS: Kate Baldwin, Bobby Steggert, Andrew Lippa and John August of the Pre-Broadway Tryout of BIG FISH in Chicago

BWW INTERVIEWS: Kate Baldwin, Bobby Steggert, Andrew Lippa and John August of the Pre-Broadway Tryout of BIG FISH in Chicago

On Wednesday, March 20, 2013, BroadwayWorld's Chicago Regional Editor, Paul W. Thompson, sat down for exclusive talks with co-star Bobby Steggert, with the writing team of Andrew Lippa (music and lyrics) and John August (book) and with co-star Kate Baldwin in the balcony lobby of Chicago's Oriental Theatre. Here is his report:

If the enthusiasm generated by these folks is any indication, then the new musical "Big Fish," based on the 1998 novel and 2003 film of the same name, will be a hot commodity this spring in Chicago and this fall in New York. Bobby Steggert, a Tony Award nominee for his work on "Ragtime," is excited to appear onstage again with his "Giant" co-star, Kate Baldwin, one of three other actors from that Public Theater musical now in "Big Fish." And he's delighted by the fact that she plays his mother, even though, as he put it, "she's only five years older than I am!" As for appearing with two-time Tony Award winner (for "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "Catch Me If You Can") Norbert Leo Butz, who plays his father, Steggert put it this way: "He's a beast on stage!" And he meant that in the best possible ways.

BWW INTERVIEWS: Kate Baldwin, Bobby Steggert, Andrew Lippa and John August of the Pre-Broadway Tryout of BIG FISH in ChicagoComposer-lyricist Andrew Lippa (Tony-nominated for "The Addams Family") also noted that there are four cast members from this season's off-Broadway "Giant" in "Big Fish," a fact that he says did not escape the notice of "Giant" composer Michael John LaChiusa. "He told me, 'You've gotten my whole cast!' And, while I certainly wished that 'Giant' had gone on from the Public, we are thrilled to have them all with us here now in Chicago."

Baldwin, the Tony nominee for "Finian's Rainbow" who was born in Evanston, Illinois, and moved from there to a town near Milwaukee when she was seven, told me that Northwestern University was "always there in my mind" as a schoolgirl considering a career in the theater. "And it was the right choice for me--it gave me exactly what I needed to put me on the path to the career I wanted to have. I got my Equity card at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, and soon after got a job that brought me to New York, where I've been ever since. "

But she and Steggert both believe that the show will play well here. Even though she is well acquainted with the musical theater scene here ("It's a HUGE part of the theater community in Chicago!"), he has never appeared here before. But he's been here before, and he told me, "It's a great city, it's a smart city." Plus, he appeared in the Lincoln Center production of the musical "The Minister's Wife," which originated at the Writers' Theatre in Glencoe, and intends to look up director Michael Halberstam and co-star Kate Fry while he is in town. These folks clearly love it here.

As for working with five-time Tony winning director-choreographer Susan Stroman on this show (everyone really does call her "Stro"), they are all well aware of the fantastic success that her "The Producers" had here in 2000. Steggert called her "very thorough, and kind to everyone, and so inclusive of everyone. She's one of the most respectful people I've ever worked with in the theater. And I first worked with her in 'A Christmas Carol' when I was 12!" And Lippa told me, "Casting is everything--and I don't mean just the performers. When the 'Big Fish' producers brought Stro on board, we immediately knew that she was right for this material."

BWW INTERVIEWS: Kate Baldwin, Bobby Steggert, Andrew Lippa and John August of the Pre-Broadway Tryout of BIG FISH in ChicagoBookwriter John August, who also wrote the screenplay for the 2003 film starring Ewan McGregor and directed by Tim Burton, told me that he saw the musical theater implications of the story and the material right from the beginning, and knew that, "even though the movie couldn't sing, a stage version could." He and Lippa have been collaborating on this show for nine years, way before Lippa spent Christmas of 2009 here with "The Addams Family" at the very same theater, and with scene designer Julian Crouch. The two writers have in common the loss of their fathers, and the theme of fathers and sons, and fear of death, really seem to have informed their work. They spent a lot of time excitedly discussing their method of collaborating, acting out the show and singing the songs for each other to work things out--long before they did the same thing for others to hear. Andrew, being a tenor, would take Edward's songs (the role now filled by Norbert Leo Butz) and John, "a bass bass," would take Will's songs, now sung by the baritone Bobby Steggert. They would trade off on Sandra's songs, now sung by Kate Baldwin.

By their account, Lippa and August's collaboration has been a real meeting of minds, even as they went from script to workshops and into this first full production. Just last week they realized there were about a dozen places that could be trimmed, and, they said, "Stro agreed with us on every single one." A big challenge for them has been the show's narrative structure, which tells two stories simultaneously, that of a young man courting and marrying his young wife, and that of the same man, now older, as he relates to his now-grown son. Both writers seem to revel in the technical demands of such a dual, flashback structure. And they want to get the flow of the songs right--"Three songs had endings, they kept ending! And we realized we didn't need endings, we need to keep the show going. So the endings were cut. And in one version of the show, the start of Act Two had three production numbers in a row! That's not the case now."

BWW INTERVIEWS: Kate Baldwin, Bobby Steggert, Andrew Lippa and John August of the Pre-Broadway Tryout of BIG FISH in ChicagoBaldwin loves the structure too, as she plays her character "from 17 to 65. I play her at 17, and 20, and at 32, and at 65, but most often at 58!" She first became involved with the show at a 2011 workshop. Steggert was not involved before the tryout began rehearsals, but, when he auditioned for the writers they immediately knew they had found what they were looking for for the character of Will.

The show's last song has great meaning for its writers. They told me it's called, "How It Ends." It was written after a time when the two men talked about their own fathers and their own fears, and got to the point where they were crying--really crying. And then, August cued Lippa to begin writing, and the song was born. It reportedly hasn't changed one bit. I can't wait to hear it. Can you?


BIG FISH, a new musical based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the 2003 Columbia Pictures film written by John August, will have its pre?Broadway world premiere at Chicago's Oriental Theatre (24 West Randolph Street) in a limited 5?week engagement beginning performances Tuesday, April 2, 2013, opening Friday, April 19, 2013, and playing through Sunday, May 5, 2013. Tickets for the Chicago engagement are on?sale now.

Directed and choreographed by five?time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman (Contact, The Producers, The Scottsboro Boys), with music and lyrics by Grammy and Tony Award nominee Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party, The Addams Family), a book by Grammy and BAFTA Award nominee John August (Frankenweenie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), BIG FISH begins previews on Broadway Thursday, September 5, 2013 and opens Sunday, October 6, 2013, at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre (250 West 52nd Street).

Starring two?time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Catch Me If You Can) as Edward Bloom, Tony Award nominee Kate Baldwin (Giant, Finian's Rainbow) as Sandra Bloom, Tony Award nominee Bobby Steggert (Giant, Ragtime) as Will Bloom, Krystal Joy Brown (Leap Of Faith) as Josephine Bloom and Zachary Unger (Chaplin) as Young Will, and featuring Ryan Andes, Ben Crawford, J. C. Montgomery, Tony Award nominee Brad Oscar, Kirsten Scott, Sarrah Strimel and Katie Thompson, BIG FISH has a cast of 27 that includes Preston Truman Boyd, Alex Brightman, Bree Branker, Joshua Buscher, Robin Campbell, Bryn Dowling, Jason Lee Garrett, Leah Hoffman, Synthia Link, Angie Schworer, Lara Seibert, Tally Sessions, Cary Tedder and Ashley Yeater.

BIG FISH has scenic design by Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award winner Julian Crouch, costume design by five?time Tony Award winner William Ivey Long, lighting design by two-time Tony Award winner Donald Holder, sound design by Los Angeles Drama Critics Award winner Jon Weston, projection design by Drama Desk Award winner Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions, musical direction by Mary?Mitchell Campbell, orchestrations by Larry Hochman and dance arrangements by Sam Davis. BIG FISH is produced by Dan Jinks, Bruce Cohen and Stage Entertainment with Roy Furman, The Nederlander Organization, John Domo and Broadway Across America in association with CJ E&M, Parrothead Productions and Columbia Pictures.

A rollicking fantasy set in the American South, BIG FISH centers on the charismatic Edward Bloom (Butz), whose impossible stories of his epic adventures frustrate his son Will (Steggert). As Edward's final chapter approaches, Will embarks on his own journey to find out who his father really is, revealing the man behind the myth, the truth from the tall tales. Overflowing with heart, humor and inventive stagecraft, BIG FISH is a tribute to the power of family, dreaming big and the unpredictable adventure of life itself.

"Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions" by Daniel Wallace was first printed in 1998. In December 2003, a critically acclaimed film of Big Fish was released by Columbia Pictures directed by Tim Burton, starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange and Helena Bonham Carter. The film was nominated for an Academy Award, Grammy Award, 4 Golden Globe Awards and 7 BAFTA Awards.


BWW INTERVIEWS: Kate Baldwin, Bobby Steggert, Andrew Lippa and John August of the Pre-Broadway Tryout of BIG FISH in ChicagoTickets for BIG FISH at Chicago's Oriental Theatre range in price from $33?$100. A select number of premium seats are also available for many performances. Tickets are available now for groups of 15 or more by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977?1710. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Kiosk at Water Tower Place (845 N. Michigan Ave.), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775?2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations, and online at BIG FISH Press Night is scheduled for Friday, April 19, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.

PHOTOS: Oriental Theatre marquee; Oriental Theatre streetscape; Kate Baldwin and Andrew Lippa; Bobby Steggert; Norbert Leo Butz

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