Big Fish has already lived two lives: The first as the 1998 novel by David Wallace and the second as the Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated 2003 film directed by Tim Burton. Beginning October 6, the charming, over-the-top tale of Will Bloom and his quest to figure out his relationship with his tall-tale-telling father, Edward, will be born again on Broadway.
Adapting a story as well known and beloved as Big Fish is no simple task. Luckily there’s a top-notch team behind the show, including stage vet Norbert Leo Butz as Edward Bloom, the writing team of Andrew Lippa and John August and Broadway favorite Kate Baldwin as Sandra Bloom, Edward’s wife and the subject of a rather far-fetched story herself.
DuJour caught up with Baldwin to discuss special effects, brand-new shows and why she herself has a soft spot for magic.
So, Big Fish is already beloved by two groups of people: those who love the novel and those who love the movie. Were you familiar with either when you took the role of Sandra Bloom?
I saw the movie in the theater when it came out. My husband—who was just my boyfriend at the time—and I went to go see it with his mother. I remember watching the movie and feeling enchanted, but never in a million years would I think I’d be in a musical version of it.
Do you keep that sort of material in mind or is it better to completely block it out as you work on the play?
It’s important to focus on the script that is written and in front of you. You can’t act anything that’s not on the page. It was imperative to get a flavor for what Alabama is like. The character I play is a quintessential Southern woman, so I focused on that. I focused on the friends that I have who are from the Deep South. I didn’t go back and watch the movie; I read the novel, which is very different from the film, and subsequently our musical is another evolution of that story that has taken on its own personality and life.
Your last Broadway show was Finian’s Rainbow, which is a classic. What’s it like for an actor going from something beloved to taking on something that’s brand new?
The biggest difference is that the writers are across the table from you. They have an idea about how to change what you’re doing or improve it or shape the story from night to night, so that’s the big difference.
John August and Andrew Lippa are two of the most charming people I think you’ll ever meet. They’re talented and have been working on this show together a good seven years, I think. You can kind of absorb how much this story means to both of them on a personal level and so your own involvement comes with a sense of pride and responsibility.
This is a story that has its fair share of magic. Will that be evident on stage?
There are magical elements in the show, and there are technical aspects as well. I don’t want to give anything away, but there are technical aspects that can change the scene for us in dramatic ways and can give a sense of movement or time passing. It’s like when you see a really good magician and they fool you right in front of your face—that’s what this feels like sometimes.
Big Fish is based in part around the idea of the tall tales people tell. Are there any fibs that hold a special significance for you?
I can relate two aspects of my life to that idea, and one is just being in the theatre. The best stories are theatre stories: ‘So there I was and so-and-so is center stage and all of a sudden this is about to happen…’ You get that amazing type of story from actors who have had a career and have colorful tales of their own experiences. Those can get built up over time just like the Big Fish story.
Is there an Edward Bloom type character in your own life?
The person in my life who is most like Edward Bloom was my maternal grandfather, but he wasn’t necessarily a huge storyteller. He was the kind of person who could make every day things like crossing the street or parking the car or tipping the waitress in to some sort of ceremony and into some sort of fun, unusual event. He would embellish the everyday parts of his life with some little flourish and so people remembered him and people loved him and were happy to have him around.
Now in previews, “Big Fish” opens on October 6 at the Neil Simon Theater. Click here for more info.