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Like Billy Crudup in the film, Bobby Steggert manages to win genuine sympathy as the questioning son, who is on the brink of fatherhood himself. "What's beautiful about this show is that there's a complex conflict but also a really interesting resolution. What attracted me to it was that it has hope, it has love, it has optimism."
He feels there's a lot of food for thought here. "I want people to think about the legacy they'll leave behind," Steggert said. "I want people to think about the relationships they have — the way that they communicate with the people they love."
As Butz's wife and the designated referee of the house, auburn-haired Kate Baldwin makes her character one of the pillars of the production. "I love this character. She's warm, she's lovely, she's strong, she's trying to bring her husband and her son together again — make them see each other for who they are and appreciate them.
"Plus, Sandra Bloom is Southern. I love playing a Southern belle, mostly because I'm from Chicago, I think. I studied some really close friends who are Southern."
As in Giant, son Steggert opts for an interracial marriage, but nothing is made of it here. The role of his wife was played on screen by the pre-Piaf Marion Cotillard. "I adore her and her body of work," said Krystal Joy Brown, who inherited this role.
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"In fact, my character was French when we did it in Chicago. I had a French accent. I don't know exactly what the motivation was behind hiring an African-American girl — but, as we're moving into the future, I think it's time to just leave that alone. My boyfriend is white. It doesn't really matter. I see a lot of mixed couples, and I think it's truer to what's happening now. We need more representation of that."
Director-choreographer Stroman, who has been toiling over this project for three years, was drawn instinctively to the material because of her own personal history. "I think for anybody who creates for the theatre, or loves the theatre, you're here because somebody told you 'big fish' stories," she said. "And, of course, for me, my father told big fish stories, and I, to this day, still don't know if they are true or not. That was the thing that attracted me most. He would be very happy if he were here.
"This was a great collaboration with my designers. The show has heart with those scenes of the family, of course, but then it has the big opportunities for these fantastical moments when the father tells these 'big fish' stories. It has both, which is what I love about the musical. That combination is what I'm most proud of."
Adapter August welcomed the chance to rethink his source material the second time around. "You have to build things for a stage completely differently so, at no point, did I open up the old scripts or watch the movie. I had not watched the movie since we started working on the show. Everything has to grow its own way.
"We had the luxury of going to Chicago and trying it out. So much stuff worked well, and so much stuff didn't work. We took the summer off, then everyone came back. I came back with a new script. The first act was completely different in Chicago. We wrote four new songs in the first act, including the opening number. Bobby's 'I Want' song, 'Stranger' — that's brand-new to this production. We found brand-new scenes to get us into things. The show was written around a piano, and we were the audience five feet away. When the audience is 50 feet away in the darkness, there were things that weren't working, and we recognized that, and we did the work."
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