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Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin, and Bobby Steggert Star in "Big Fish" at the Neil Simon Theatre
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Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin, and Bobby Steggert Star in "Big Fish" at the Neil Simon Theatre

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Big Fish
(Big FishWebsite)

Book by John August
Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa

Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin, Bobby Steggert
Krystal Joy Brown, Anthony Pierini, Anthony Pierini
Ryan Andes, Ben Crawford, Brad Oscar

And an ensemble of actors/dancers/singers

Directed and Choreographed by Susan Stroman
Music Direction by Mary Mitchell Campbell
Orchestrations by Larry Hochman

At the
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street

Scenic Design: Julian Crouch
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Sound Design: Jon Weston
Hair & Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Projection Design: Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions
Makeup Design: Angelina Avallone
Casting: Tara Rubin Casting
Dance Music Arrangements: Sam Davis
Vocal Arrangements & Incidental Music: Andrew Lippa
Music Coordinator: Michael Keller
Advertising: SpotCo
Production Management: Aurora Productions
General Manager: 101 Productions, Ltd.
Company Manager: David van Zyll de Jong
Press Representative: The Hartman Group

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 16, 2013 Matinee

John August and Andrew Lippa’s new musical adaptation of Daniel Wallace’s novel Big Fish and its filmatic offshoot, by Mr. August, is a heart-warming production, filled with: giant backdrops of daffodils, a hometown that’s transplanted offstage and later re-appears, circus characters performing tricks, a forest of imaginative tree-creatures and goblin-like witches, a front-of-stage river, out of which a quasi-mermaid climbs, a one-off sighting of the jumping “big fish”, a cowboy-styled adventure, a nurturing, needy giant, and a star with two loves of his life. That star, Norbert Leo Butz, as Edward Bloom, is a traveling salesman, who loves to tell tall tales that he actually now believes. Those “big fish” tall tales keep him strong and distant from conflicted memories and deteriorating health. Edward’s first love of his life, Jenny Hill (Kirsten Scott), is a silver lining in Edward’s memory bank, but a broken thread that was left behind. His second love of his life was Sandra Bloom (Kate Baldwin), a warm, supportive spouse, throughout some trials and tribulations. Ms. Baldwin (who was iridescent in Giant and Finian’s Rainbow) is iridescent here, exuding charm and vibrant vocals, a maternal and womanly figure throughout.

Mr. Butz (who was energized and entertaining in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Catch Me If You Can) has an outsized personality with effusive enthusiasm. He sings, dances, and draws the crowd toward him. My guest, who had not seen him before, was won over immediately. Edward and Sandra’s son, Will, was first played by Anthony Pierini, and later by the fabulous Bobby Steggert (who shone in Ragtime and Giant, both outsized musicals). Mr. Steggert, like Mr. Butz, has an endearing affect with a sense of natural honesty of characterization, as well as a sense of goodness of intentions. When Will marries Josephine (Krystal Joy Brown), the interracial circumstance is never mentioned in this Alabama setting, nor is the fact that their son, also Anthony Pierini, is not biracial. Big Fish is so positive and ebullient, with townspeople coming together in small town celebrations, that those minor details are not worthy of text. In fact, the Alabama of this bubbly, patriotic setting has some embracing small-town, American festivities, with a high school, a flagpole, a Mayor, a battle with a flood, and magical, mesmerizing interludes.

Ryan Andes is Karl the giant, who later morphs into a very tall, humble man. His giant, seemingly on stilts, sometimes steals the show. Brad Oscar and Ben Crawford, as Amos Calloway and Don Price, are town figures that re-appear here and there in lively, engaging action scenes. Ciara Renée is a wild, wanton Witch, with big hair and a bigger costume, who grabs the characters like a nightmare gone live. Sarrah Strimel, on the other hand, is the “Girl in the Water”, not actually a mermaid, but a sultry, slinky, dancing dervish. Anthony Pierini, who appears only in some matinees, was a fine Young Will, and Krystal Joy Brown was also a refined, magnetic Josephine. Susan Stroman, Director and Choreographer, who has been favorably reviewed in this column for The Scottsboro Boys, The Producers, Contact, and other musicals, plus full-length ballets, like Double Feature, has created some dazzling numbers for the family, townspeople, and imaginative creatures in this show, but sometimes the motion is overwrought. At one point, when the forest, trees, witch, and other creatures were loudly cavorting, it seemed more like Broadway’s Cinderella, a show mostly for kids. But, at today’s matinee, the audience vocally approved.

Musical numbers ranged from “Be the Hero”, to “Little Lamb from Alabama”, to “Fight the Dragons” Music and lyrics were often trite and folksy, but, again, this matinee crowd adored every one. Yes, there are dragons to fight, and even two elephants, seen wagging their tails. But the best surprise was the actual big fish, that jumped from the river at the finale. Julian Crouch had his hands full with the over-crowded trees and towns (it was wise adding the river off-stage), but in the end the gestalt was visually vital and mostly adorable. William Ivey-Long also had his hands full with the massive array of creature costumes, some of which could have used less ornamentation. Donald Holder’s lighting shifted seamlessly to a sunny field of daffodils from an earlier, dark, eerie woodland. Jon Weston’s sound kept the lyrics clear and resounding. Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions did a great job with visual media. At the curtain call, I was imagining a field of daffodils. The power of tall tales.

The Company in "Big Fish"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Bobby Steggert
in "Big Fish"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Kate Baldwin and Norbert Leo Butz
in "Big Fish"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Kate Baldwin, Norbert Leo Butz,
and Company in "Big Fish"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at