Last weekend, I sat/stood outside in the freezing cold and epic windiness for two hours to get Student Rush tickets to see Big Fish. The show is closing at the end of December and I knew I had to see it before its truncated run was over because 1.) It’s a musical based off of one of my favorite books and films and 2.) Norbert Leo Butz.
A lot of people are probably familiar with the movie version of Big Fish (my tied-for-first favorite Tim Burton film [tied with Ed Wood, of course]), but maybe not so much with the book (written by Daniel Wallace). I highly recommend the book – it’s a good read and allows you to use your imagination to picture Edward Bloom’s stories as fanciful as you want. I read the book before the film came out, and then I saw the film twice in theaters. I’m not one to cry at movies, but the ending made me tear up both times. (No tears actually fell, but my eyes were definitely glassy.) I bought the DVD the day it came out and have watched it multiple times since.
I love the movie and I really wanted to love the musical.
I liked the musical.
But believe me when I say (write?) that I CRIED during the last couple scenes.
And I was not the only one in the theater to burst into tears. There was audible sniffling all around me. And rightly so.
Big Fish is a father/son story for the ages. It’s about a man named William Bloom who is trying to reconcile with his father, Edward Bloom. Edward Bloom was a traveling salesman while William was a boy, so he was not home as much as William wanted him to be – and when he was home, Edward Bloom told these wildly fantastical stories about giants, werewolves, witches and the war in which he himself was always the protagonist. Young William (and later adult William) thought these stories were too ridiculous and he wanted to know the truth about his father and what really happened in his father’s life. When illness strikes the Bloom family, time literally starts running out (as opposed to stopping/slowing down… see what I did there? Wink) and William desperately tries to piece together the truth. Additional stresses pile on as William finds out he is to become a father and he worries about being to able to raise a son when he thinks he doesn’t have a great example from which to lead. There are a lot of scenes of father and son butting heads, but also moments of redemption and forgiveness. Let’s just say a lot of the people crying in the theater were adult men.
For some reason, I am more affected by Father/Son stories than Mother/Daughter stories. Actually, I know the reason… it’s because Father/Son stories force the characters to open up and discuss feelings. And watching men talk (and sing) about feelings is not only entertaining, but heartbreaking. Vulnerable male characters are much more interesting to watch than guys who keep all their feelings bottled up inside. This is why I love Big Fish (the movie). This is why I only liked the musical.
Yes, the emotions were there in the musical. But I just wanted more. The whole idea behind Edward Blood is that he lived this crazy, almost unimaginably fantastical life… but the stage version just doesn’t quite live up to how big Edward Bloom’s world really was. Yes, there were still a giant and a mermaid and a big fish… but I selfishly still wanted more.
There were big musical numbers, but sadly I did not find the songs all that catchy. I can only remember a couple lyrics from a couple songs. I mean, if they have a cast album, I’ll totally get it… but that’s only because I crave anything sung by Norbert Leo Butz. His voice is magical. He was the perfect Edward Bloom… I just wish the musical lived up to his stage presence.
I am wholly biased when it comes to Norbert Leo Butz. (Though luckily, a lot of people share my bias.) I have been a fan of his for over a decade. In undergrad, I would watch bootlegs of Wicked and The Last 5 Years on youtube and stare at my computer screen with a look of pure wonder etched across my face. He’s such an animated performer and plays those big moments as huge as they deserve to be… but at the same time, he masterfully pulls back and allows the vulnerable moments to just be. And it breaks your heart.
In the musical, NBL plays both the younger and older versions of Edward Bloom (sometimes within mere seconds of each other… his physicality of those two characters is brilliant and impressive). Though his bigger moments definitely play out when he’s young Edward, I was more impacted by both Edwards’ quieter moments. For young Edward, it was the daffodil scene. I was in the fifth row for the show, and this was the only point that I wished my seat were up in the mezzanine so that I could see the daffodils from far away. I don’t consider myself that sappy of a romantic, but I definitely swooned when NBL sang “Daffodils.” His voice is perfection. It goes into your ears and then flows like cocoa throughout the rest of your person, making you feel all warm and protected. You feel safe and smitten at the same time and I honestly could listen to him sing anything. But I digress… Edward’s quieter moments.
The end scenes. Oh, lord. If you have not read the book or seen the movie, I will not ruin it for you. (Please at least see the movie. Really.) But, William and Edward come to a sort of understanding at the end of the book/movie/musical and William finally gets his dad’s stories and why Edward did what he did and why he was away so much when William was little. There is just so much love and understanding that happens when William achieves clarity about his father and it’s very beautiful and a sucker punch to your feels. It was at this point where my tears started and they did not stop until the finale reprise of “Be The Hero.”
Despite the shortcomings with the songs and some of the staging, the cast on a whole is really quite good. It’s an entertaining show and an emotional one at that, but I very much understand why its open-ended run is now drawing to a close at the end of December. If you have the means to see it, I would definitely recommend it. Everyone should have the opportunity to see Norbert Leo Butz in a musical at least once in his/her life. (That’s another reason why I kept crying during the last few scenes… this was a decade-long dream come true for me. I was supposed to see NBL in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels years ago, but his understudy was in the day I had tickets. Yes, I did see him in Dead Accounts last year, but that was a play… and a meh one at that.)
Big Fish is a great story. If you can’t/don’t see the musical, at least check out the movie and/or book.
Big Fish is playing at the Neil Simon Theatre until the end of December 2013. Student Rush tickets are available at the Box Office ($27/ticket, and up to two tickets per student ID). I was the third person in line and my tickets were E 17 and E 19 (Left Orchestra).