By: Sandi Durell
What’s going on? An actual old fashioned Broadway musical in the spirit of days gone by – fish are flying right out of the river in traveling salesman Edward Bloom’s home town in Alabama and Bloom (Norbert Leo Butz) is the grand spinner of all tales magical.
Susan Stroman’s (director/choreographer) latest entry is filled with whimsy and also a giant, a circus and lots of daffodils.
When we first meet Edward, he’s with his son Will (Bobby Steggert) who’s about to be married and Will afraid his dad will spoil the wedding with his larger than life tales and hackneyed jokes. The scene quickly reverts to flashback in the boy’s bedroom (young Will, Zachary Unger), dad explaining the importance to “Be The Hero” no matter what you choose to be – and suddenly tree trunks come alive in a memorable “The Witch” and more with outstanding, brilliant and colorful costume design by William Ivey Long, extraordinary lighting effects by Donald Holder, fantastic scenery by Julian Crouch – with Benjamin Pearcy’s fantastical projections!
The orchestra pit is now home to a flipping-flying mermaid, three big butt elephants are seen moving in tandem to music and Karl (Ryan Andes) a giant living in a cave, is led out into the sunlight “Out There on the Road.” And where is the orchestra? Behind a scim on stage layered on several levels!
The backstory reveals how Edward falls enchantingly in love with Sandra (the beautifully luminous Kate Baldwin of golden voice) the moment he sees her glowing auburn hair at the Calloway Circus in “Little Lamb From Alabama,” the ringmaster cunningly played by Brad Oscar, including all the flamboyant and imaginative circus performers.
Scenes just sprout out of Bloom’s imagination (or did some really happen?) in Andrew Lippa’s (music/lyrics) production adapted by John August (book), based on the 2003 Tim Burton film
There’s more to the story, however, as it pits father vs. son in an alienated relationship that needs healing, a loving and lonely wife whose husband is always traveling and the realities that strike when Bloom is diagnosed with cancer.
There’s a stunning song in Act II by Baldwin “I Don’t Need a Roof.” Krystal Joy Brown is sweetly caring as Will’s young, pregnant wife. Will eventually gets to know many more truths, rather than tall tales, as he unearths old relationships between dad and ex-girlfriend Jenny Hill (Kirsten Scott). Steggert shows off a strong vocal honesty.
The fantasies just keep happening around the enthusiastic Butz and he is a charmer as he conveys it all with lots of impressive vim and vigor.
Although not every musical number is a hit, you can’t go wrong with this big old fashioned Broadway musical at the Neil Simon Theatre on West 52nd Street.
*Photos Paul Kolnik