Thursday, October 23, 2014

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NY1 Theater Review: 'Big Fish'

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The new musical "Big Fish" stars two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz as Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman with an affinity for telling tall tales. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.

"Big Fish", based on a 2003 film, makes for an odd duck of a musical. If parts of this tuner don't quite work, Susan Stroman's wondrously inventive production, featuring another magnificent performance by Norbert Leo Butz, creates an irresistible emotional hook.

Edward Bloom loves to tell tall tales. He's got a million of 'em, it seems, and his loving wife Sandra and son Will have heard them all. As you'd expect on a big Broadway stage, they're brought to life with splashy ingenuity. State-of-the-art technology allows the creative team to fly with incredible effects, and they're seamlessly woven into the narrative.

The show's book, written by the screenwriter John August, isn't quite so successful, but there's a lot of ground to cover and he gamely touches all the bases. The challenge for him and composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa is balancing the fanciful stories with the life-and-death drama facing the characters. And while the fantasy sequences are great fun, they tend to overpower the central conflict between the father and son, ending on a poignant note. Still, Lippa's score is his most accessible and if not especially catchy, the songs can be quite lovely and rousing.

The performances are all pretty marvelous. Ryan Andes as Karl the smart giant and Brad Oscar's circus ringmaster standout in the fantasy scenes. Kate Baldwin looks and sounds positively enchanting, and Bobby Steggert as the pragmatic son, disenchanted with his father's wild imagination, is quite strong. But without the extraordinary Norbert Leo Butz, "Big Fish" would not swim. He is masterful as an everyman character, which he portrays with superman talent.

Like Edward's tall tales, this is a show that doesn't hold up well under scrutiny, yet give in to its visceral thrills and "Big Fish" will wash over you like a sweet and warm embrace.

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