Saturday, February 8, 2014


Say what you will about Andrew Lippa, but the man has written some undoubtedly great music. His latest musical based on the Tim Burton film Big Fish finally has a long awaited cast recording. The question is: What end of the Lippa spectrum does this music fall on? Is this the next Wild Party or is it another Addams Family?

Happily, this score isn't just good. It's great.

Sung primarily by the always excellent Norbert Leo Butz, the golden-voiced Kate Baldwin, and Bobby Steggert (a seriously underrated musical theatre talent), Lippa's score certainly doesn't break any new ground musically... but in a rare case, it doesn't really matter. If you're a fan of huge chorus numbers and big brassy Broadway orchestrations, Big Fish will be a huge catch for you. But even for the musical theatre fans who are more into something more subdued and emotional, this album delivers the goods in that category as well.

The songs strike a balance between gigantically energetic musical theatre numbers, twangy country tunes, and gentle, personal, poignant ballads. While no song can be classified as bland, some songs are admittedly predictable and rather melodically standard. And sometimes, Lippa's usually lovely lyrics come off as forced and, in some cases, a bit nonsensical or random.

But the great majority of the songs don't carry these quibbles with them. Listeners will find immediate favourites in the poignant and touching songs Fight the Dragons and Time Stops, and will find it impossible to get the melodies of songs like Be a Hero (the show's opener) and What's Next out of their heads. And of course, for anyone who knows the show's three stars, it goes without saying that the vocal performances are top notch. Norbert Leo Butz's perfect performance as Edward Bloom shines, while Kate Baldwin's beautiful soprano works beautifully on songs such as the emotional I Don't Need a Roof... and Bobby Steggert's unique and addictive tenor makes you wonder why we don't see or hear more of him.

If anything, Big Fish strikes a beautiful balance musically between being a crowd pleaser as well as being a show with a serious emotional undercurrent. Even without having seen the show, I was still quite moved by the time the album ended and, the more I listen to it, the more I'm growing to appreciate Lippa's lovely work. This album is going to satisfy a lot of musical theatre fans, and I'm living proof of that. Besides providing me with a bunch of great songs, Big Fish left me feeling emotionally full.

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