Oriental Theatre: “Big Fish”

Musical adaptations of movies don’t have to be “all or nothing” propositions.” But “Big Fish” deserves to be just a little bit … bigger.

Chicago-area theater-lovers again have the opportunity to see great entertainment before it hits the stage on Broadway, and this latest world premiere does not disappoint. The book by John August and music from Andrew Lippa together create a fantastic musical experience. Still, it’s a bit more sleepy than surreal, which might catch fans of the movie off guard.

Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, it’s a story about a father full of tall tales and the resentful son who’s had to endure them his entire life. Audience members may find themselves scratching their heads trying to understand the depth of Will Bloom’s (Bobby Steggert) disdain for his father Edward (Norbert Leo Butz). But it’s Edward’s penchant for storytelling that makes the show, making the emotional disconnect a sin quickly forgiven.

Butz’s role is clearly the star of the show, and he carries the load in fantastic fashion, but it’s Sandra Bloom (Kate Baldwin) that seems to be the most well-rounded character on stage. As wife to Edward and mom to Will, the audience has no problem relating to her love for both and the conflict she feels watching the two men she cares most about continue to fight.

The real star of the show, though, should be the “big fish.” The bar is set pretty high when you’re adapting a Tim Burton film, and the show almost clears it. To be clear, the set and costume design is indeed amazing. Thanks to some really innovative work, the costumes offer members of the ensemble their chance to shine, particularly in the forest and circus scenes. Yet, when the fish finally makes his appearance, you’re left wanting for a little more.

If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie, you probably won’t miss anything—go and enjoy those dancing elephants. But for those with background knowledge of the movie’s heartwarming ending, fair warning, you may feel a bit disenchanted with the musical’s final scenes.


“Big Fish” runs through May 5 at the Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph St., Chicago). Tickets range from $33-100 and are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices, online, or by calling 800-775-2000.