There is a moment in the second act of Big Fish, the soulless, bloated new musical, which encapsulates everything that is wrong with Susan Stroman’s kitchen-sink production. A dancer wears a skirt that gives the illusion of flickering flames when she lifts it over her head and ruffles it to portray a camp fire. Then, when the scene is over and the fire has been extinguished, that dancer gets a little solo spot alone on stage. What was a charming trompe l’oeil moment is highlighted by Stroman with an elbow to the rib. “Do you see how clever I am?” she shrieks in your ear.
The rest of the show has the same deafening, thudding whisper. Based on the movie based on a book, this particular version is so reliant on star Norbert Leo Butz’s talent that the show couldn’t possibly have much of an after life. As the tall-tale-telling father and the priggish son who just wants The Truth (it’s complicated, natch), Butz and Bobby Steggert (Broadway’s resident twink, getting a little long in the tooth) are believably father and son, but the point is you don’t care.
Stroman suspects that we don’t care, which is why she outfits the show with giant production number after giant production number. She proved that she can do stripped down with the vastly superior The Scottsboro Boys, creating song and dance numbers with chairs and a board. Here, she digs deep into her archives and gives you a Wild West number, a circus number, an on-the-run number, a haunted woods number, and so many more that my eyes automatically glazed over the moment the orchestra struck up a new tune.
To make matters worse, the truth about Butz’s character is that…he saved a whole town from being destroyed? In the movie, he had an affair with his high school sweetheart. That sums up this particular adaptation.
Addison DeWhiskers is a catty sometimes theater critic who usually expects just a little bit more than the talents of those involved can provide.