Big Fish, which has been announced to be coming to London's The Other Palace later this year, first came to public attention as American author Daniel Wallace’s 1998 book Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions.
It tells the story of William Bloom, a young man who is facing the imminent death of his father, the travelling salesman Edward. As his father lies on his deathbed, William recalls their time together and comes to realise he wasn’t the impulsive liar he believed he was, and develops an understanding of Edward’s exaggerations. The novel draws inspiration from the Greek epic poem Odyssey, and Irish writer James Joyce’s Ulysses.
In December 2003, the story was picked up by Hollywood director Tim Burton. The film starred Ewan McGregor and Billy Crudup as Will, and Albert Finney as father Edward. The movie grossed over $122million, and was nominated for both an Oscar and a Grammy Award for Danny Elfman’s score.
Fast forward a decade, and the story was adapted by American composer and lyricist Andrew Lippa and book writer John August, who also wrote the screenplay for Burton’s film. Lippa is an established Broadway writer and producer, and his work includes The Addams Family, and he contributed to the score of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Certain aspects of the musical differed from the film, such as the distinction of the characters The Witch and Jenny Hill (which were both played by Helena Bonham Carter in the film), but the story was largely the same.
The piece opened in a Chicago try-out directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Susan Stroman (The Producers) at the Oriental Theatre. The original cast featured Norbert Leo Butz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Catch Me If You Can) as Edward, Bobby Steggert (Ragtime) as Will and Kate Baldwin (Hello, Dolly!) as Edward’s wife Sandra. Alex Brightman, who originated the role of Dewey Finn in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock, was also part of the Broadway cast.
Lippa’s score features songs such as the opening number “Be the Hero”, “Daffodils” and “Time Stops”, which you can watch below. Designed by Julian Crouch, the Big Fish set was recognisable by its striking yellow Daffodil set.
Big Fish officially opened on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre on 6th October 2013 and it ran for 98 performances before closing on 29th December 2013. Upon opening, Entertainment Weekly critic Thom Geler praised the show, saying: “For the most part, though, Big Fish finds theatrically inventive ways to reel audiences into its central love story.”
Regional productions followed and the show eventually made its way to Europe in November 2016, when it premiered in Munich. The latest production of note was the Australian premiere of the show in January 2017.
Big Fish is set to open in London at The Other Palace later this year, and it will star Cheers actor Kelsey Grammer.