In Tony Award nominee Andrew Lippa's last Broadway project, the composer-lyricist brought the characters created by Charles Addams to the stage in the musical comedy The Addams Family. This time, he adapts the Bloom family for the stage in Big Fish, the work inspired by the 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace and the subsequent 2003 fantasy film by screenwriter John August. Lippa and August joined forces for the new Broadway musical, which casts two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz as Edward Bloom, a father with little time on his hands who makes up for a busy schedule by inviting his son, Will, to the world of fantasy that he creates nightly with his bedtime stories — or "big fish tales."
Lippa, who straddles the worlds of fantasy and reality in his latest Broadway piece, chatted with Playbill.com about creating the world that the Bloom family exists in, his own father-son tale and his other recent project, I Am Harvey Milk, which premiered the same day DOMA and Proposition 8 were deemed unconstitutional.
Were you familiar with the film version of "Big Fish" before you began to write music for its stage adaptation?
Andrew Lippa: Yeah… It's funny. It was a joint meeting of the minds. I saw the film in 2003, and then I met Bruce Cohen, one of the producers of the film and one of the producers of the musical. I met Bruce in 2004, and after meeting him, I thought, "I love that movie 'Big Fish,' and I bet it would be a great musical. Maybe I should just call Bruce." So I called him, and I asked him if they'd consider turning "Big Fish" into a musical, and they said that they had been in discussions and that [screenwriter] John August wanted to write the book of the musical and that I was at the top of their list of potential [composers] they'd been discussing. I couldn't quite believe it, but it was very nice to hear. A week later, I was talking to John on the phone, and then a month later, I was in Los Angeles, and John and I started writing a few scenes, and I wrote two songs to show [producers] Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen. I wrote these songs in a few days, and John wrote the scenes, and we had a lot of ideas of how the outline of Act I would go, and we went back to L.A. and showed it to Dan and Bruce and they said, "Let's make it a musical."
What were those first songs you started writing?
AL: Both of them are no longer in the show. They were in the show in Chicago, however. They were the opening two numbers… Those two songs are now in the trunk.
What I find interesting about Big Fish is that you're straddling two storylines — you have this love story between Edward and Sandra Bloom, and you also see this beautiful father-son tale, in which Edward Bloom explores various fantasies. Was the musicality dictated by the different storylines?
AL: In a way, there are two scores in the show. One of them is the romantic family drama, and one of them is the fantasy drama — all of the fantasies that Edward Bloom goes on and all of the stories he tells. Early on, I wanted to capture a tiny bit of flavor of the South, but not make this a "country musical." I also wanted to be as romantic as I could possibly be, so one of the earlier songs I wrote — the end of Act I, "Daffodils" — [is] a very romantic idea [with Edward giving] her all these daffodils. [Director] Susan Stroman, of course, just delivered a spectacular-looking moment in our show — an iconic moment in our show, [where the stage is transformed into a field of flowers] — and I wanted to write something that was as poetic and beautiful as I thought the character was capable of creating. In a way, "Daffodils" is a great joining of the fantasy and the reality. He met his wife and says lovely things to her, but the daffodils scene is ultimately a fantasy. We cross that line, I think… Early on in the show, the fantasy and the reality are separated, and they get more and more blurred as the show goes on. "Daffodils" is where they cross into each other.
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