The second preview of an out-of-town try-out is a special thing for a few reasons. First, you get to see part of the process happening right in front of your eyes, and you also are seeing a production that is so fresh that you are seeing characters on stage finding new moments in the show as they go. It’s exciting, and clearly people want to see it; the show was sold very well.
But, with a second preview, you also are seeing a lot of things that desperately need to be fixed. I just wish that Big Fish didn’t flounder as much as it did. With the level of caliber that production has, I expected more.
The artistic team is genius – directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman (The Scottsboro Boys and The Producers), music by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family and The Wild Party) and book written by John August (original screenplay writer for the movie of Big Fish), which is supported by some of my favorite Broadway actors in the business — Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin, and Bobby Steggert. This show has the talent behind it to be seriously good, and I think that’s why the show has some fantastic producers behind it, who are clearly throwing a lot of money at this pre-Broadway production.
I’m not going to go through and technically “review” the show, because I know hearing from folks that saw the show a few days later that the performers are getting 15-20 new pages a night of re-writes. The production team is hard-at-work trying to create a cohesive show ready for Broadway and they need this time to do it. I just thought the overall structure and writing would have been a little stronger from the get-go.
Here’s my few humble (extremely humble) reminders for the show’s producers and writing team:
- Tell a story that could be told without the millions of dollars of projections, sets and costumes. If you took away all of the incredible technical design that show has, would the story still hold emotionally true?
- Keep the relationships between the father-son, mother-son, father-mother, clearer so that we, as the audience, empathize with these characters at a greater degree — part of that is tell more of these types of relationship-based stories in Act I, and not just in Act 2.
- Keep the fantastical stories shorter and crisper, so that the emotional core of the story isn’t being over-shadowed by millions of dollars of set and costume design in these tall-tales.
- Keep the music as the emotional meat of the show, so that we can connect with the characters through music — not all of the musical material needs to push the story along — sometimes I wanted to just live in the moment of the emotion, instead of trying to listen to the plot through the lyrics, which I missed a lot of (the sound design team was working ferociously in the back to make everything work!).
- Cuts are good (especially in the long-winded Act I).
These might be simple and somewhat “obvious” suggestions, but these were some of what took me out of the story.
Some of my favorite moments:
- “This River Between Us”, “Time Stops”, “Fight the Dragons” and “How it Ends” were fantastic musical moments in the show. I loved these numbers the most.
- I loved the fact that cloggers were “characters” in this show — I grew up clogging professionally all around the world. But, if you are going to call them cloggers, you might want to have your actors actually clog, and not “fake” it or use quasi-tap steps to create the affect. CLOG! It could be an amazing moment in the show and these actors clearly seem capable of clogging!
- The projections were incredible — so stunning and used so effectively. I loved the wood paneling in the set. It was gorgeous.
- Beautiful colors all around in the set, costumes and lights. Beautiful.
But….. I wasn’t emotionally connected as much as I should have been.
So here’s a few questions you might be asking:
- Does Big Fish have a viable life on Broadway? Yes.
- Will people generally like the show? Yes, especially as they make the show tighter (and hopefully more emotionally connected).
- Will it blow people away? Maybe. It has the potential.
- Would I recommend it? Not yet.
- Will I see it again on Broadway? Maybe — the jury is still out on that. Depends on reviews and word-of-mouth and how they’ve updated the show from now to then.
I want it to succeed – very badly, and I wish all the best to the cast, crew and production staff of this show.