By Abbey Knupp
It would seem that being told through novel is not enough for the tall-tale-telling Edward Bloom, whose story has been transposed from book to movie to musical. The musical adaption of Big Fish, written by John August and accompanied by music from Andrew Lippa, hit the broadway stage October 6 and created quite a splash. August, who wrote the screenplay for Tim Burton’s film adaption, sought to bring the original novel to life in a way that was never attempted before. He wanted to make the pages sing.
Big Fish is the story of Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman from the Southern United States, whose life is told through a series of short stories of epic proportion. Some of Edward’s miraculous tales tell of times when he faced off with a giant, encountered a mermaid, met the love of his life, and had a showdown with a witch. In the movie version of Big Fish, the story is told by an aged Edward Bloom with a terminal illness, who hopes to reconcile with his estranged son before he passes. The novel, conversely, is told from the perspective of Edward’s son, Will, as he looks back on the life of his father, remembering the stories as they lead up to his father’s eventual passing.
The musical seeks to further flesh out the characters by placing the story into a medium that causes the audience to completely suspend disbelief. In theater, the audience is open to filling in the minute details when the story is told through representation or accepting the fact that the actor playing Edward ages 49 years throughout the course of the play, which allows the creative team to stretch and bend the laws of reality to create their masterpiece.
August, in an article written for the Los Angeles Times, expresses the difficulty the creators had with connecting the fantasy numbers to the linear story about a father and his son. Without the aid of post-production and editing, they had to use interesting methods to connect the interlacing storylines. One of the methods they used was the integration of Will Bloom into the fantasy sequences. A grounded character with an attitude that allows the audience to connect with his drive to understand his father’s true essence through the fabrications, Will helps connect the fantasy sequences to the overreaching storyline, helping the larger-than-life musical stay grounded.
“The musical needed to be its own thing, not beholden on what had come before,” wrote August in an article on Broadway Buzz. When August wrote the screenplay for the TIm Burton movie, it was based on Daniel Wallace’s novel, with a few adjustments thrown in to tie the piece together, namely a war, a circus, and daffodils. However, when approaching the musical, August decided to abandon the novel and the screenplay entirely, utilizing only the aspects that he remembered to create something entirely new. Viewers who attend the show will see some of the same iconic scenes, including the circus and the field of daffodils, but the entirety of the show is set to leave a different impression on the viewer.
With impeccable sets and a star-studded cast, including Norbert Leo Butz and Kate Baldwin, who play Edward and his wife, Sandra, respectively, the musical rendition of Big Fish will make the beloved story sing and capture the essence of the man who is a big fish.