I haven't read "Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions" by Daniel Wallace, first printed in 1998, nor seen the now cult status 2003 film directed by Tim Burton, starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange and Helena Bonham Carter.
But now that I've seen the new, much anticipated pre-Broadway stage adaptation which opened over the weekend in Chicago at The Oriental Theatre, I want to read and see the works that inspired this musical telling of a story about tall tales entwined with a complicated father and son relationship.
Thoughtfully directed and choreographed with a touch of magic by Susan Stroman, it opened for previews April 2 and only remains in the Windy City until May 5 before it readies to head to New York and Broadway for a planned October opening. It will certainly be tweaked and fine-tuned before Big Apple audiences get their first taste of the performance artistry explored in this unique and inventive adventure into both mind and soul.
Prior to seeing it for myself, I asked friends and co-workers who had seen the film or were familiar with the story, to tell me what it's all about. And with every request, I found I was rewarded with a completely different answer. And so goes the experience of seeing "Big Fish" on stage while it swims the audience waters of Chicago, for what is a rare and treasured opportunity to be among the first faces to stare at fantasy brought to life.
Stroman has gathered an amazing cast of limitless talent, starring two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz as salesman and father Edward Bloom, who loves to spin a yarn, much to the disdain of his son, Will, played by warm and genuine Bobby Steggert. Flawless Kate Baldwin is wife and mother Sandra Bloom, and young, fresh and believable Zachary Unger plays the junior counterpart of Will as a child. There's a total cast of 27 others who seamlessly slip in and out of supporting roles to bring to life one man's dreams and disillusions, with Katie Thompson as a swamp witch, Ryan Andes as a misunderstood giant and Sarrah Strimel as a would-be mermaid.
The extraordinary scenic design is by Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award winner Julian Crouch crosses every boundary to marry a mix of screen projections and traditional crafted sets to beautifully transport the audience from a bedroom to a circus to a town square to a field of swaying daffodils. (However, the sight lines for those seated on the main floor are not good to see what I'm told is a symbolic and tranquil ever-flowing river body of water projected along the edge of the stage, along with some other assorted elements during the course of the show.)
Costume design by five-time Tony Award winner William Ivey Long and lighting design by two-time Tony Award winner Donald Holder, matched with perfect sound design by Jon Weston and projection design by Drama Desk Award winner Benjamin Pearcy, help complete a picture that extends far beyond any frame.
The two and half hour stage telling has some moments with musical numbers that go on just a bit too long, like "I Know What You Want" and "Red, White and True." The standout number comes in Act II, called "Showdown," which really shows off the singing and face-paced performance talents of both Butz and Steggert. Those who are already fans of "Big Fish," will easily be hooked. As for the rest of those ticket-destined for this new musical, this shiny and new bait in the form of what's awaiting behind the curtain is sure to lure.
Tickets are $33 to $100 at (800) 775-2000 or BroadwayInChicago.com or bigfishthemusical.com.