Big Fish. I don’t know what to say, but it’s time to say it. This movie, this book, this musical, has such a hold on me. What is it about Edward Bloom and his story that gets me? Guess what? Big girls do cry because all three variations of this story make me sob like a baby.
This morning, I spent a lot of time talking to my boss-lady about the spectacle that is Big Fish, the new Broadway musical (which is why I had the urge to write something about it today). We were talking about our spring show, All Shook Up (ugh, sorry, but just…ugh jukebox musicals), and she was saying that we should try to use projections to create the locales that we need. It will be visually interesting, unique, and saves us money on sets. Not to mention our “stage” (aka classroom) is itty bitty, so we need space saving ideas!
So of course, I told her about Big Fish and the drop-dead stunning projection, scenic, and lighting work that help set the scenes and the moods for each part of the show. Benjamin Pearcy, Donald Holder, and Julian Crouch made seamless magic together. Now that’s how different designers create a unified vision successfully. Take notes, children!
And then of course, I got all weepy and sentimental because we started watching clips of the show on YouTube and I love everything that has to do with Big Fish.
Daniel Wallace’s original novel is very different from the movie, which in turn is also different from the musical. The musical is a combination of both source materials, though it is larger than life in ways more similar to the movie than the book.
Susan Stroman and her spectacle, y’all. Also, you can’t employ William Ivey Long to costume a show and not have pure brilliance, detail, and magic up on that stage.
Speaking of magic and going on a totally new train of thought…
You know how some girls say that Disney ruined falling in love for them? I think Big Fish did that for me. When Edward Bloom is at the circus and sees Sandra, time literally stops. He is captivated by her because he knows that they are destined to be together. There is an entire song dedicated to time stopping in the new musical. I think I have always expected time to stop, the moment to stand still. Welp, that’s never happened for me. Maybe when I met my cats? Eh, not even then.
Someday, I want to open my window and see a well-dressed man, hopefully in tweed with elbow patches on his sweater or jacket, standing with a field full of my favorite flowers (purple roses and lilies, everyone. Just FYI). I don’t want him to get punched in the face a million times though. But I do want a “Daffodils” moment.
“Remembering a man’s stories makes him immortal, did you know that?”
I hope that with my enthusiasm for the show, I can make sure it’s remembered for what it meant to so many people. I am not affiliated with the show in any way (though gosh I wish I had been) but one of my saddest recent days was finding out that Big Fish set a closing date.
I know some people found the show cheesy and campy (I’m looking at you, student of mine who is actually hopefully never going to read this), and had problems with the fantasy versus reality. To them, I say that they missed the point, and that’s such a shame. The show is supposed to be clean-cut, fun, bright, and above all else, poignant (without being a drama).
The point of Will Bloom’s story is that he didn’t know what to believe about his often-absent, now ailing, father. Life was a fairy tale for Edward. Stories drove him forward in his life, and he was an excellent storyteller. Obviously, so is Norbert Leo Butz, who plays the role in the musical. He was able to play young Edward, old Edward, sick Edward, all with such a natural verve. It was impressive. And I just love to listen to NLB sing, of course.
Don’t we all have family members like Edward? A big fish tale in life, and one day in death. I’m thinking specifically of my grandfather, actually, who is in his mid-90s right now. I’m thinking of his photo album from the war and far-fetched stories like how he claims he invented Boston Cream doughnuts while he was a cook in the war (it has to do with undercooking bagels or buns or something like that).
I’m also thinking of Will’s struggle with his father, and the pain and frustration of losing trust and faith in a family member. It took tragedy to bring them back together. The time line is a matter of months in the musical, but in the movie Edward and his son are estranged for what seems to be quite some time.
Sometimes, I’m afraid of my own family hurting in the same way. We argue a lot. We don’t see eye to eye. The older I get, the harder it is to believe in my family. I find that I identify a bit with the character, played by Bobby Steggart in the musical.
For real, the way I describe this all, in short, to anyone in regards to my feelings about the musical is always “If you have ever loved any family member, ever, through disagreements or not, you will understand this.”
And you will cry. I cried every time the father and son duo were not in sync with one another. I cried during “Daffodils” because it was just so touching and a gorgeous way to end the first act. I really cried when Kate Baldwin sang “I Don’t Need a Roof” and I failed to keep myself together for the remainder of the show. Big Fish turns everyone into proud “ugly criers” for the night.
In the end, all of Edward Bloom’s stories had some truth to them, and all of his stories were right there with him to say goodbye. Always believe in your loved ones. Sometimes, a big fish tale is just that. A little exaggerated and it won’t hurt anyone, but it certainly will add more spice to your life.
Perhaps my love for this story also comes from my love of fairy tales, folklore, and mythology. Disney movies are still my favorite movies, I’ve already spoken about my love for fairy tales and books related to the genre, and a good fantasy moment makes every glum day better for me.
Big Fish, in all of its incarnations, has this for me.
I’m so heartbroken that due to my sad wallet, I will never see Big Fish the musical again. I am blessed that I had to the chance to see it and I’m thankful that two of my great friends came alone for the journey on the last night of previews back in October. I’m glad that they’re both still my friends even after I smacked them with excitement when I saw taps come out on the stage for “Red, White and True”. I’m so glad that we all “awww”ed over “Daffodils” together and that we all gave major snaps and claps for the fierceness that is Ciara Renée as The Witch. Together we took a journey to watch elephants dance, a giant come to life, and a mermaid swim in the pit.
I haven’t even scratched the surface of what this show means to me, why I watch the movie on the reg, and why the book is my favorite.
It’s part of my heart. And I highly recommend that everyone checks out the story in whichever form you are able to. You have until December 29th to get your butt to the city to see the musical. I’ll be weeping silently to myself until the cast recording is released in February.
To end, here are two more videos that show off some of the cool visuals that took my breath away and captured my imagination during the show.
Thank you, Big Fish, and all of your many creators, the casts of both the movie and the musical (thanks y’all for signing my Playbill and being so talented and beyond friendly at the stage door), for giving me something so special that I feel speechless when I talk about it. That’s the end of my incoherent babble about a story that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.