Lanford Beard
September 06, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Even before Big Fish hit movie theaters in 2003, screenwriter John August knew its yarn-spinning hero was bound for Broadway. ”You look at Edward Bloom’s stories…and they feel like production numbers,” says August. ”There are moments when words fail you, and you break into song. That’s what [the film] was missing.” Buoyed by a rash of screen-to-stage hits — including three of the last five Best Musical Tony winners (Kinky Boots, Once, and Billy Elliot) — Big Fish, the moving, epic tale of a father and son, just began previews on the Great White Way and opens Oct. 6. ”Broadway is a risky business,” says producer Dan Jinks, who enlisted some pros for the stage version of his film: composer Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family) and Susan Stroman, the director-choreographer of 2001’s Tony-sweeping hit The Producers, which was based on Mel Brooks’ 1968 film.

Stroman says she took inspiration from Tim Burton’s visually distinctive film, creating a river that flows in the orchestra pit and a circus of dancing elephants. But since there are no close-ups on stage, she says, ”we are [effectively] in a wide shot all night…so some things have to be clearer.” Unlike the film, which starred Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor as the older and younger versions of Edward Bloom, the musical relies on two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz to play Edward through all 46 years of his relationship with his wife, Sandra (Kate Baldwin). ”Theater is really about magic. It’s the transformation that happens in front of the audience,” says August. ”That’s the thrill, and that’s the thing you don’t sense in the movie.”

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