“When a man’s stories are remembered, then he is immortal.”
These are the words that describe the extraordinary life of Edward Bloom. In Daniel Wallace’s novel, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, William Bloom struggles to discover the truth behind his father’s life-long string of tall tales. But it’s Wallace’s story that is well on the way to becoming unforgettable. The Birmingham-born writer, who now lives in North Carolina, is returning to the Magic City this weekend for the opening of Big Fish the musical at the Red Mountain Theatre Company.
The novel’s success wasn’t something that Wallace had expected when it was published in 1998. “I didn’t have any expectations for it at all,” he said. “I’d been working for such a long time to write a book that somebody else would publish… That’s all I wanted, is to have that book out there.”
Fewer than five years later, Tim Burton was directing a movie adaptation, an experience that was “hard to grasp,” according to Wallace. “I didn’t ‘grasp’ it so much as I decided just to enjoy it,” he said. “And that’s what I did.”
Since then, Wallace has written seven more novels, various screenplays and short stories, and currently has plans for a memoir. He is also a professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I do enjoy teaching a lot,” he said, not only because of the way it helps him grow as a writer, but because of the opportunity to help his students do the same. “It’s very gratifying.”
A decade after the movie premiered, Big Fish was adapted again, this time for the Broadway stage. While Wallace said that the process of watching his book become a movie and a musical was both “jarring” and “stunning,” he’s now looking forward to attending Red Mountain’s production. “I’m so excited,” he said. “This is the first off Broadway show of Big Fish that I’ve seen.” After the performance on opening night, Wallace will participate in a “talk-back” with the audience.
Fans of Wallace’s novels who are familiar with a running theme in the books may also be interested in attending an event at the Avon Theatre on Saturday night. As a part of Arc Stories, Wallace will recount the origin of his collection of glass eyes and the appearances they make in so many of his novels.
So how does the Big Fish the musical compare to what fans of the book and movie may be used to? “The play’s interesting in that it’s kind of a mish-mash of the book and the movie,” said Wallace. “It’s definitely different… But it’s a lot of fun. It’s a very fun musical, and a lot of people are moved at the end.”
If you aren’t familiar with the ending, don’t expect to guess what happens. Because, in the words of Will Bloom, “the ending is always a surprise.” Bethany Adams/Weld
Big Fish opens this Friday at the RMTC Cabaret Theatre, located at 301 19th Street North in Birmingham. For show times and ticket prices, visit Redmountaintheatre.org. The Avon Theatre is located at 2829 7th Avenue South. For more information about Arc Stories, visit Arcstories.com.