“Big Fish,” the new musical based on the 2003 Tim Burton movie -- as well as the original novel by Daniel Wallace -- made its big splash on Broadway over the weekend, opening at the Neil Simon Theatre.
With an A-list Broadway team, including actor Norbert Leo Butz and director-choreographer Susan Stroman, the production is aiming high as the first big musical of the Broadway season.
Among the show’s lead producers are Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen -- the movie-producing duo behind the Burton film. Also returning is screenwriter John August, who adapted the Wallace novel for the screen and who has penned the book for the musical.
Butz takes on the character of Edward Bloom, originated in the movie by Ewan McGregor (and by Albert Finney in Bloom’s later years). The character’s son, played by Billy Crudup in the film, is played on stage by Bobby Steggert.
“Big Fish” had a tryout run in Chicago, where it opened in April. At the time, Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones called it a “worthy, seriously ambitious new tuner” but said it needed some creative fine-tuning before transferring to New York.
The story follows the elder Bloom as he spins fantastical stories of dubious veracity, taking viewers on a ride through the backwoods of the American South.
Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote that Butz is forced to “coast on his charm, while scenery happens around him, bringing to mind an affable Disney World guide who has discovered he is not the main attraction.”
Bloomberg’s Jeremy Gerard described the production as “enchanting,” though mostly in the second act. Butz, Gerard writes, hasn’t had “such a meaty role since ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,’ ” and possesses that “indefinable charismatic spark that defines a star.”
Linda Winer of Newsday called the show “ambitious but disappointing.” Butz, she writes, has “an exuberance that never feels even slightly dishonest and an intelligence that refuses to condescend to his most outrageous characters.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney wrote that “a lot of loving craftsmanship has gone into this musical, and it delivers satisfying entertainment for those who don’t mind being emotionally manipulated."