Sunday, November 17, 2013

Big Fish Review


*Cough* Okay. Yes, I love movies and video games are my passion, but theatre is my job. If video games are a nice home cooked meal, and movies are fast food, then Broadway shows are a fine dining experience; something that I don't have all too often, but are usually worth it... or they would be if this season wasn't a boring, uninteresting one.

Broadway shows are a different kind of beast to review, because while there are a massive amount of shows on Broadway now, most of them aren't new. At least 20% of the shows on Broadway right now have opened this year, and you can probably be damned sure that by the same time next year most of those shows won't be around anymore. So that's why when I see a Broadway show, I make damned sure that it'll be worth my time and money. Or sometimes I can see shows for free, and when I see a show that's free that has tickets that can go up to $100, there's no way in hell that I won't see it.

Why did I go off on a tangent like that? Well because today's show of choice, Big Fish, was a show that I didn't have to pay a cent to see, and is closing before the end of the year. It's always a shame to see a show close, but in the case of Big Fish, it's not hard to see why.

field of daffodils = insane pollen allergies
For those uninitiated, the play is a musical version of the Tim Burton movie of the same name... which I've never seen. And that's an adaptation of a book... which I've never read. Quick little side note, but I don't care about the additions, removals, or faithfulness to the source material of any adaptation. Whatever I'm looking at should stand on its own as a form of entertainment and not rely on "It's explained better in the book." I don't know if that'll be the case for this particular show, but I'm just stating that now as a way to essentially cover my tracks here. In terms of the plot, it really doesn't feel like there's anything left out that I don't necessarily understand.

Our main character, Edward Bloom, is a man that's led a very interesting life. He was the most popular kid in high school, traveled around with a giant, joined a circus, found his true love while working at the circus, and has done a whole lot of unbelievable feats that no one knows whether they're true or not. And when his son finds out he has cancer, his son tries to unravel the mystery of who his father really is and whether his stories are true or not. All the while, Edward slowly starts to die, but he knows he won't die of cancer because when he was a teenager, a witch showed him exactly how he'd die, and Edward knows that he's not going to die of cancer.

The concept is actually a really interesting one. We want to know exactly who Edward is and exactly what is real and what's a lie about his stories. When he says he met a giant and traveled around with him, we see a fantasized version of him, and then towards the end we see the actual giant and why Edward talked about him as a more stereotypical giant. Seeing connections like that is fascinating and you want to see why each character Edward talks about is said like that.

I never knew the unabomber was in this play
However, these fantasy interpretations of some people just don't make any sense. Edward talks at length about a circus leader that hides a deep dark secret, but when we see the secret, it doesn't make any sense what the real life connection is. The line between fantasy and reality is already blurred, but when nonsensical elements are thrown in the don't make sense in a real world context, it has you scratch your head as to why that's even there. See also the mermaid that shown an insane amount of times (though she is shown with a really cool effect of swimming in the orchestra pit, which is just a river).

So while the plot may have some good ideas with a confusing execution, at least it does hit an emotional chord. When Edward's cancer progresses and he gets closer to dying, we really do see how his wife, his son, his son's wife, and even old friends react to it. Act 2 is much more emotional and less about amazing fantasy sequences, which in this show works. When it needs to be serious and emotional, the show stops its fantasies and focuses on the emotional connections between them very nicely.

The same can't be said for the songs though. A musical like this should enchant a person and have them be mesmerized by the outlandish scenarios and characters, but instead the songs are just underwhelming and, dare I say, not memorable. I can't think of a single song that has stayed in my head since then, which is never a good sign of a musical. The songs have no significant weight to them, and that's especially true during the fantasies, where the songs is just there because they needed a song to justify making a fantasy there. I know some people may disagree with that, but out of all of the songs, no one them stand out in my a head. That's one of the many difficulties with reviewing a musical in particular, since each person has their own taste in music and that will certainly affect how a person sees that show. I just so happen to find the songs uninteresting and pure fluff.

Big Fish visually is great to look at... at times. 
The one thing that I will unquestionably give props to for Big Fish is that visually, it's astounding. In order to convey these bizarre moments, the staging often goes to using projections and very quick changes to show a progression of time or an effect. Seeing people wear cloaks them make them look like tree roots is great, and then seeing different characters projected on them as the roots move around, while still keeping the projection on the roots in a sight to behold, and even for costumes like the aforementioned giant look great. The set is mostly composed of these projections, so it's very easy to change locations in almost an instant. But again, as good as the projections may be, there are several points where it just looks sloppy and cheap. There's a scene where a flood happens, and all that is done is a projection is shown of the backdrop slowly flooding and the objects in the projection are floating to the top. It just looks like a lame effect, and it's even more mind boggling because they are fully capable of doing good water effects. Look at the mermaid photo!

But after combining everything together, it's really obvious that this is an adaptation from a movie. There are titles for most scenes and even for cutaways that you would see from Family Guy. It seems like the writers wanted to include everything from the movie, even the things that didn't necessarily work and couldn't transition well to the stage. It's very obvious that this happen a lot more scope and impact on the big screen, and putting it on the stage just seems to make it lose a bit of its luster. Again, I've never actually seen the movie, but the entire time a fantasy sequence happened, I just imagined it being done so much better on film where editing and special effects are much more prevalent. If I could sum it up, it's a show that has a lot of ambition, but carries the burden of being an adaptation of something that was designed to work best as a film.

I don't think that Big Fish is bad; far from it actually. It has a lot of great potential and when it hits those emotional beats and visuals then it's a great time. But as a musical with an unimpressive soundtrack, confusing moments, and visuals that can be hit or miss, it just comes off as good, but not great. I can understand why it's closing, but it's a shame since for some, it'll probably be a fantastic and unforgettable show. I give Big Fish 3 daffodils out of 5. 


Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go watch the movie!

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