Big Fish bombed on Broadway. Based on Tim Burton’s 2003 movie version of Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, the show, with a score by Andrew Lippa and a book by John August, opened on Broadway on October 6, 2013, and only ran 98 regular performances and earned for its pains zero Tony nominations. Yet, in October 2019, I saw a revival of this show, produced by BoHo Theatre, that was so magical, it made me wonder why the show had bombed. Marriott Theatre’s sluggish and uninspired current revival, directed by Henry Godinez, gave me some insights.
Big FishThrough 3/19: Wed 1 and 7:30 PM, Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 4 and 8 PM, Sun 1 and 5 PM; also Thu 3/9 and 3/16 1 PM: Wed 3/8 and 3/15 and Sun 3/19 1 PM only; ASL interpretation Thu 3/16 7:30 PM; Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, 847-634-0200, marriotttheatre.com, $59-$64
The story, about a father and son’s fraught relationship, is at heart an intimate one. Yes, the central character is larger than life; he loves telling tall tales about his life and exploits. He claims to have met and saved a giant, kissed a real mermaid, had his death foretold by a witch, etc. But the feelings smoldering underneath the tales are the kind more easily communicated in a storefront theater, not in Marriott’s banquet-hall-sized theater-in-the-round. This goes double for Lippa’s sweet and restrained but forgettable tunes.
It doesn’t help that the two most important actors in the show, Alexander Gemignani (Edward Bloom, the father) and Michael Kurowski (Will Bloom, the son)—don’t fully inhabit their parts. Gemignani never for a moment convinces as the fascinating, big-talking, dream chaser at the center of it all. Nor does Kurowski. Playing a son who has spent his life feeling neglected by his dad, Kurowski never seems more than mildly peeved at all of his father’s nonsense (which may even include having a long-term mistress). The lack of chemistry between these two takes all the fire out of the show. Heidi Kettenring, in contrast, turns in a stellar performance as Edward’s long-suffering wife. If only Gemignani and Kurowski had matched her energy and commitment, this show might have been magic.