Gerard Raymond recently spoke with John August and Andrew Lippa about their new musical.
Daniel Wallace’s acclaimed novel Big Fish captured readers’ imaginations with its unique balance of colorful fantasy and real-life emotion. Screenwriter John August and director Tim Burton brought Wallace’s epic tale – about a traveling salesman named Edward Bloom who’s got a larger-than-life story for everything – to the big screen in 2003. Shortly thereafter, the film’s producers and Mr. August decided that adapting Big Fish for the stage could bring it new dimension and resonance. They assembled a team of Broadway’s brightest creative talents, including 5-time Tony-winning director Susan Stroman and Tony-nominated composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa, and the result: a great, big, brand-new American musical anchored by an emotionally intimate tale at its core. Big Fish premiered at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre in Spring of 2013. The production, along with stars Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin and Bobby Steggert, will begin performances at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre on September 5th. How did Big Fish, the musical, come about?
John August: I read Daniel’s book in manuscript in 1998 and I was able to get the rights and make it into a movie along with [producers] Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen. But even as we were finishing up the movie, I told them that I really think there is a musical here. Big Fish is a story about storytelling, and that lends itself naturally to song. It’s a cliché but true that when you get to a point where words fail you, then you start singing. A crucial step in making the musical for us was finding Andrew.
Andrew Lippa: I know it sounds very implausible, but I called Bruce Cohen after meeting him at a party in New York City; I told him how much I had loved the film Big Fish and asked if he and Dan had considered turning it into a musical. He said that not only were they working on it, I was on their list and they were going to call me! It was providential, and in a way, this magical thing – just like something which might have happened to the character Edward Bloom in the story.
John and I met for the first time in 2003. He picked me up at the Los Angeles airport and we drove to Palm Springs, where we had rented a house which had a piano and a pool. (I have now made that my contractual prerequisite for working on a show!) John and I talked about the structure of the show and the characters; what needed to sing and how we would do it. And in a few days we wrote the first two scenes with two songs. We took them back to LA and played the songs for Bruce and Dan. They looked at each other and they looked at us and they said, “let’s do it.”
John, when writing the book for the musical, did you work from your screenplay or did you start again from the novel?
August: At no point did I want to feel like I was adapting my script or the movie. I wanted to tell a new story about Edward Bloom and this family in a way that really wanted to be on stage. For every moment I started asking, “what is the best stage version of that idea?” As an example, in the movie there is a scene I wrote where Jessica Lange [Sandra Bloom] climbs into the bathtub with her husband played by Albert Finney. It is a really beautiful moment in the movie but it would not work at all on the stage. She expresses something here, so I said to Andrew that’s a song – and we were able to use musical vocabulary to do it.
Lippa: If I can sing John’s praises for a moment: He has never written a musical before and it is probably very tricky to go from being the screenwriter and working in a medium that you know very well and to let go all of the things you have done before. John was actually aggressive about reminding us that we were not doing a film and that we were doing a stage piece. It’s really been a wonderful collaboration.
In the musical, Norbert Leo Butz and Kate Baldwin play Edward and Sandra Bloom all the way through a 40 year time period. Why this change from the movie, where different actors play the younger and older versions of the characters?
August: Movies are so literal, where you are staring at somebody’s face in close-up. On stage the audience is willing to embrace the fact that Norbert is a teenager and later on playing an older man. They are excited to see that transformation happen in front of their eyes.
Lippa: That was actually the first big decision that John and I made when we were in that car on our way to Palm Springs. As literal as movies are, there is nobody standing in front of you. In the theater it is about as literal as you can get where real people are right up in front of you. And because of that, there is an emotional disconnect. You don’t go on the journey with that person, if it was a different actor in the earlier scene.
Andrew, how did you come up with a musical style for the show?
Lippa: A thing that I admired about the movie is that the score never purposely went into “country music” or the kind of sounds you might hear in Alabama. It just nodded in that direction every once in a while. We believed that was the right way to go for the musical as well – to just give a flavor of country music. And what has emerged is, I think, a score within a score. There is what I call the emotional score, which is the family story and there is the fantasy score. When Bloom goes to the circus, obviously there is a circus music component and, in Act Two, there is a sequence in the Wild West so that has a honky-tonk piano quality to it.
Would you say that this score is something of a departure from your previous work?
Lippa: I certainly hope that people see it as that. It is musically richer and, emotionally, it is among the deepest I have managed to go. I feel very strongly about the emotions in the life of this piece and these characters, so it has brought out a kind of music that I don’t think I have written before.
August: I think what Andrew has been able to shape is a timeless American musical. It feels contemporary without being pop in any way and classical without feeling old. It is also internally consistent – every piece that is in there feels like it’s a part of Big Fish. There were many songs that didn’t make it…
Lippa: Yes, even the title song that I wrote wasn’t Big Fishy enough. People ask about how long it has taken us and the answer is the piece took as long as it was supposed to take.
What drew you to Susan Stroman for director and choreographer?
August: This is a very intimate story that sometimes gets very big in its giant production numbers. Susan Stroman is a director who could do the intimate numbers and she is also a master at creating these big moments on stage, these transformations with dance and movement. She was just a dream to find. Andrew and I went to a meeting with her and played her the songs and we were so nervous…
Lippa: She will tell you that most of the time she works with artists she knows or on projects that she develops from scratch. She is not used to doing something where somebody brings her a score or a finished draft. But she was so compelled by the material. I think she is doing work unlike anything of hers I have ever seen. I mean everybody knows that she can take a handkerchief and turn it into a dance number, but she is doing something in our show that is far different because she, I think, as I have and John did, is responding to the real emotion and romance in the idea of a man who really wants to inspire his child, but who can do it in the only way he knows how. It has been moving to see her push herself as well as us.
Now that Big Fish is about to debut on Broadway, what are your thoughts about musical you’ve created?
August: Edward Bloom is both a larger than life character and a real man with human failings. He grew up the son of a poor farmer in Alabama who aspired to this mythic life and it is very much an American dream and American story. The fun of our show is you get to see his great journey, but you also get to see this small and more difficult journey he has with his own son.
Lippa: It is the humanity in this story that is so potent. I think we have managed to make it larger than life but not so over the top that you can’t relate to it. That’s been the balancing act. One of the great things we learned in Chicago [the pre-Broadway try-out] was how to find this line between fantasy and reality and the expectations of the audience. We had written many drafts of the musical, but seeing it come to life in this glorious way, for me, was overwhelming at times. I found it so moving – the idea of working with these amazing talented people and these actors who are so extraordinary.
Last updated and effective as of January 14, 2019
Introduction and Your Acceptance of These Terms
Information We Collect
Information we collect directly from you: Your provision of your personal information to Us is completely voluntary; it is not a statutory or contractual requirement. Personally Identifiable Information (“PII”) is information that is uniquely identifiable to you, such as your name, address, email address, phone number, credit card number and other personal information that is not otherwise publicly available. Certain features of Our website may require that you provide Us with your personal information, including:
Mobile Alert Sign-Up (SMS)
Contact Us (email)
Public forums (e.g. message boards)
E-commerce (ticket purchases)
Your use of any of the features above;
New content on Our website;
News that We think may interest you about Us;
Responses to your questions/comments to us; and
Information relating to a ticket purchase.
We may use your demographic information for in house statistics, advertising and marketing target information. Our processing of your personal information is necessary for the performance and fulfillment of the contract between us and to provide you with Our services. We will also process, transfer, disclose and preserve personal information when We have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary, to resolve disputes, enforce our agreements and otherwise required by law. You can always opt-out of receiving future promotional communications from Us; see the Choice/Opt-out section below.Information We Collect Automatically: Even if you don’t use any of the features above, when you visit Our website, We may collect certain information about you.
From your Browser. For example, Our servers keep an activity log that tracks all visitors to the website. The information in the activity log does not identify you individually. The information collected may include among other data: your IP address, your registered domain or home server, time of access, date of access, web page(s) visited, number of clicks, software crash reports, type of browser used, session identification number, search terms, search results, access times and referring website’s address. We use your IP address to help diagnose problems with Our server and to administer Our website. Your IP address is also used to gather broad demographic information, such as country of origin and geographic location. We use such data in the aggregate to run internal analyses to improve upon your experience on Our website.
Tracking Tags (also known as “web beacons,” “action tags” or “single-pixel gifs”). Our website may also use tracking tags. Tracking tags are invisible graphics embedded in the pages of Our website that are programmed to collect non-personal information about your use of Our website. Like cookies, tracking tags provide overall usage patterns for Our website that We use for analysis and to provide personalized services and advertising content.
We comply with the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising set forth by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA). You can opt-out of targeted advertising from certain providers at www.aboutads.info/consumers.
How We Use Your Personal Information
The personal information We collect allows Us to keep you posted on updates to Broadway Direct. It also helps Us to improve Our services, content, and advertising. If you don’t want to be on Our email list, you can opt out anytime by clicking the “unsubscribe” button or sending an unsubscribe email to [email protected]. From time to time, We may use your personal information to send transactional emails, such as communications about purchases and changes to Our terms, conditions, and policies. Because this information is important to your interaction with Broadway Direct, you may not opt out of receiving these communications. We may also use personal information for internal purposes such as auditing, data analysis, and research to improve Broadway Direct’s services, and customer communications. If you enter into a sweepstakes, contest, or similar promotion We may use the information you provide to administer those programs.
Information Collected By/Shared With Third Parties
Third Parties Doing Work for Us. Third parties have no rights to use any data We have collected on your behalf. However, We may employ other companies or individuals to perform functions on Our behalf, such as sending postal mail, email, and text messages, conducting sweepstakes/contests, prize fulfillment and promotional activities, analyzing data, providing marketing assistance, processing credit card payments and providing customer service. These outside suppliers, agents and vendors have access to your personal information only as needed to perform their functions.
Third Parties with Links from Our Website. From our website, you may be able to click on links to third party sites to buy tickets and merchandise and for other purposes. These third party sites may collect information, including personal information. We are not responsible for, nor do we have access to the information they collect. The collection of this information is governed by the privacy policies on the applicable third party sites.
Social Networking Services. Our website may integrate with social networking services. We do not control such services and are not liable for the manner in which they operate. While we may provide you with the ability to use such services in connection with our website, we are doing so merely as an accommodation and, like you, are relying upon those third party services to operate properly and fairly.
When necessary. We may also release personal information when we believe, in good faith, that such release is reasonably necessary to protect the rights, property or safety of Ourselves, Our clients, Our users, or others. We may disclose personal information about you to law enforcement, other government officials, or other third parties, as We, in our sole discretion, believe necessary or appropriate, in connection with an investigation of fraud, intellectual property infringement, or other activity that is illegal or may expose Us to legal liability.
Transactions With Third Party E-commerce Partners, Vendors and Advertisers
Delivery of Advertising and Other Content
In addition to ads and content that We may serve you directly, We use third-party advertising companies and marketing services companies to serve ads and other content when you visit Broadway Direct and elsewhere on the internet and in other media. Both We and these companies may use information about your visits to Broadway Direct and elsewhere to serve ads and other content to you. In the course of doing so, a unique third-party cookie may be placed or recognized on your browser by such companies. In addition, We and these companies may use Web beacons to help manage Our online advertising and content. These Web beacons enable Us and the third-party companies to recognize a browser’s cookie when a browser visits this Site and to learn which banner ads bring users to our website and to serve you ads that you may find of interest elsewhere on the internet and in other media. Both Broadway Direct and these companies may use information obtained from your visits to Broadway Direct or other websites, and information received from you offline in order to provide advertisements about goods and services and other content of interest to you across the internet and in other media. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used in this manner by Our third party advertising companies, please visit http://www.networkadvertising.org/optout_nonppii.asp and/or www.aboutads.info/choices. European users may opt out of receiving targeted advertising by visiting http://www.youronlinechoices.eu/. In addition, we may provide PII and Anonymous Information to marketing services companies. This may include information we received from you offline or online. These companies may combine information we provide (including PII and Anonymous Information) with personal and anonymous information they may have about you, using cookies they place or that We place on their behalf, as described in the section regarding “Cookies and Tracking Tags”. We require these companies to delete the PII we provide them. These companies may use the resulting non-personal information and such cookies for their own marketing purposes, and they may provide the same to their customers for their customer’s marketing purposes. Some of Our emails may contain tags that allow Us and Our advertisers and other partners to determine the types of content that may be of interest to you. Those tags may contain PII and may be shared with others to the same extent indicated in the section regarding “Cookies and Tracking Tags”. Those tags may not be deleted but you can opt out of receiving the emails.
Use of This Site by Children
The Site is not directed to individuals under the age of thirteen (13), and We request that such individuals do not provide personal information through the Site. If a parent or guardian becomes aware that his or her child has provided Us with PII without the parent or guardian’s consent by, for example, misrepresenting his or her age, that parent or guardian should contact us at [email protected]. If Broadway Direct determines that it has collected personal information of children under the age of 13, Broadway Direct will immediately delete such information and any accounts believed to be held by children under 13. In addition, we may not collect or process information from a citizen of an EU member state under the age of sixteen (16) without such person’s parental consent. If you are a citizen of an EU member state under the age of 16, please tell your parents that you are using the Site and have your parents email Us at [email protected] so that We may delete any information We may have collected about you.
California Civil Code § 1798.83 permits California residents to request information about whether we have disclosed personal information to any third parties for the third parties’ direct marketing purposes. California residents have the right to request in writing: (a) a list of the categories of Personal Information, such as name, email address and mailing address and the type of services provided to the customer that a business has disclosed to third parties (including affiliates that are separate legal entities) during the immediately preceding calendar year for the third parties’ direct marketing purposes and (b) the names and addresses of all such third parties. To make a request, please contact Us at the following email address: [email protected].
Rights of EU Data Subjects
If you are a resident of the European Union, under the GDPR, European Union residents, as data subjects, have the following rights:
Right to access – This right allows individuals to obtain confirmation as to whether or not personal information concerning him or her is being processed and provide access to such personal information. It also allows individuals to request details of the processing of his or her personal information, including, without limitation, categories of recipients to whom the personal information have been or will be disclosed and purposes of processing.
Right to rectify – This right allows individuals to rectify any inaccurate personal information about him or her.
Right to restrict processing – This right allows individuals to block or suppress processing of personal data under certain circumstances.
Right to be forgotten – This right is also known as the “right to erasure”. It is an individual’s right to have personal data erased or to prevent processing in specific circumstances.
Right of data portability – This right allows individuals to move, copy or transfer personal data from one place to another in a secure manner without interrupting the integrity and usability of the information.
Right to object to processing – This right allows individuals to object to certain types of processing, including direct marketing, profiling and providing for purposes of scientific or historical research and statistics.
An EU resident has the right to access his or her personal data that We hold and to ask that their personal data be corrected or erased and to port their data. An EU resident may also have the right to object to, or request that We restrict certain processing or to withdraw consent previously provided. If you would like to exercise your rights under the GDPR, please contact us at [email protected]. If you are an EU resident and have a concern about our processing of your personal data that we are not able to resolve, you have the right to lodge a complaint with the Data Protection Authority where you reside. For contact details of your relevant local Data Protection Authority, please see http://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/article29/item-detail.cfm?item_id=612080
Security of Your Personal Information
Broadway Direct employs reasonable security measures consistent with standard industry practice, for personal information collected through this Site, including physical, electronic and operational measures to maintain security and prevent unauthorized access. While Broadway Direct takes all appropriate steps to safeguard personal information under Our control, unfortunately, no data transmission over the Internet or method of storing data can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. As such, We cannot guarantee that personal information supplied by users will not be accessed on Our servers, or intercepted while being transmitted to Us over the Internet. We assume no liability for any damages you may suffer as a result of interception, alteration or misuse of information during such transfers.
We will retain your information for as long as your account or inquiry is active and for a reasonable time thereafter in accordance with Our standard procedures or as necessary to comply with Our legal obligations, to resolve disputes, and to enforce Our agreements. Even if We delete some or all of your Personal Information, We may continue to retain and use aggregate or anonymous data previously collected and/or anonymize or aggregate your Personal Information. Please note that We will not be liable for disclosures of your data due to errors or unauthorized acts of third parties.
This Site provides users the opportunity to opt-out of receiving communications from Us, at any time, by email at [email protected], or by clicking the unsubscribe link in any email communication. The Site gives users the following options for removing their information from our database, to not receive future communications or to no longer receive our service, at any time.
Users can send mail to the following postal address: Broadway Direct 1501 Broadway 14th floor New York, NY 10036
Users can call the following telephone number: (800) 223-6715.
Users can opt-out of receiving future newsletter emails from Us by selecting the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of our email. However, We are not responsible for removing your information from the lists of any third party who has previously been provided with your information or is collecting your information through their cookies. You have the right to withdraw your consent for Our processing for your personal information by contacting us at [email protected].
This website gives users the following options for changing and modifying information previously provided, at any time.
Users can send mail to the following postal address: Broadway Direct 1501 Broadway 14th floor New York, NY 10036
Users can call the following telephone number: (800) 223-6715
In the event that We are, or any component of our operations is, merged with, or is acquired by, another entity, then any such successor or acquiring entity may become the successor to Our obligations with respect to the personal information that you have provided to Us, which would be necessary for the entity to effectively continue our business. By using this website, you consent to any transfer and use of such personal information by an entity assuming control of Our operations as a result of a merger, purchase of assets, or liquidation in bankruptcy or insolvency.