It has all of the ingredients to be this season’s big Broadway hit: Five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman (The Producers, The Scottsboro Boys) at the helm as director and choreographer; Andrew Lippa providing music and lyrics, two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Catch Me If You Can) and a fantastical story based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and subsequent film directed by Tim Burton. We’re talking Big Fish.
Broadway’s latest heartthrob, Bobby Steggert (Ragtime, Giant) stars opposite Norbert Leo Butz as a son determined to discover the truth about his father’s fantastical stories. Steggert offers the Broadway Blog an insider’s perspective as to how this bigger-than-life show has come to fruition, what makes it stand apart from the original novel and subsequent film, and what audiences can expect from this heartfelt tale.
BB: There is big anticipation for Big Fish —how would you describe Andrew Lippa’s adaptation compared to the 2003 film?
BS: Andrew’s score expands upon the soul and romance of an already magical story, and the surprising range covers everything from Edward Bloom’s most outsized theatrical tales to a heart’s quietest moments. And while Tim Burton’s vision was often odd and mysterious, ours uses the classic conventions of theater to spark the imagination. The show somehow feels both much bigger and much more intimate than the film.
BB: Did you read the original 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace in preparation for the role of Will? If so, what were your impressions of the character as described in the original source material?
BS: Daniel Wallace’s novel was a great source of inspiration to me, especially in his really thorough examination of the ambiguity of death. To lose someone you love is messy, confusing, and bewildering, to say the least. We never know how to handle or confront it until it appears in front of us. It is also an unexpected opportunity for change. Will wants to understand a man he regards as a stranger, and ends up learning the enormous value in his father’s ways. It’s the emotional connective tissue that the book provided and allowed me to make the bigger leaps that are inherent in musicals.
BB: Producer Bill Taylor describes the production as “a fantastic blend of humanity and imagination” — What does this mean to you and where does your character fit into the mix?
BS: Will has the human part down. He is very much of this world, very grounded. He is an investigator, a reporter by trade. He deals in facts and realities. Edward, on the other hand, is made entirely of imagination. What’s wonderful about the interplay between these two men, though, is that Edward’s stories were the ways through which Will, as a young child, grew to be curious in the first place. Edward would conjure up a mermaid or witch, and Will would want to know every detail about their plausibility in the real world. Could a mermaid actually exist? What spells could this witch cast? Will eventually realizes that it was imagination that allowed him to become the man he is today.
BB: Can you describe the audition process for the role?
BS: I have never worked harder or been more prepared for any audition in my life. I knew that Susan Stroman very much values preparation and full-on commitment. After a couple preliminary auditions, I had to wait almost two months to test out the material with Norbert Leo Butz, who was already cast to play Edward. The waiting was torturous. When we did finally meet, it was quickly clear that we made a good team, and I really credit Norbert for putting me at ease. He is always present, and his example reminded me to do the same. We fell instantly into an exciting chemistry, and I was cast the very next day.
BB: While Edward is this big storyteller, some might consider Will to be the naysayer or the voice of reason. Have you worried about the character being likable (or relatable?) to audiences?
BS: Much of our work during the out of town tryout in Chicago was focused on just that. We learned very quickly that we had to give Will a perspective that was not simply a rejection of his father, but quite the opposite – a desire to understand. The story we are telling here in New York is much more focused around two men who speak different languages, but who love each other dearly. And this allows the audience to relate to us both. It also doesn’t hurt that Andrew Lippa wrote an incredible song for my character in the first act that gives the audience a true insight into Will’s heart.
BB: What is the “biggest fish” story you’ve ever told?
BS: When I was an elementary school, I dreamed of being a writer, and told my friends that I had already published some very successful novels under a secret pseudonym. I’m not sure if I passed it off, but it did allow me to envision the possibilities ahead, and I guess those dreams led me here.