It’s in a big theatre, and even the programme is jumbo-sized: Big The Musical tries to live up to its name, and it largely succeeds. The tunes are not the most memorable (I wasn’t humming any of them on the Tube home), and they came across more in the style of chart music than musical theatre, although the orchestra under the direction of Jeremy Wootton provides a symphonic sound that suitably fills the auditorium. The principal casting also draws from the world of pop music, with the protagonist duo ‘Big’ Josh Baskin and Susan Lawrence played by Jay McGuiness (The Wanted) and Kimberley Walsh (Girls Aloud) respectively.
There’s also plenty of opportunity for McGuiness to show off his dancing skills (whether or not acquired from BBC Television’s Strictly Come Dancing), not least when he joins toy store proprietor George MacMillan (Matthew Kelly) in playing a piano so large that keys can only be played with one’s feet (see what I mean about ‘big’ being a theme in Big?). He doesn’t appear until some way into the first half, but it is Kelly’s sheer stage presence that accelerates the production out of second gear. And MacMillan’s despair is palpable as he realises his company’s executive leadership team is made up of people with MBA degrees but little, if any, understanding of business basics such as supply and demand – in short, they’re not producing toys that children desire.
‘Young’ Josh Baskin (Jamie O’Connor on press night, sharing the role with Harrison Dadswell and Felix Warren) does well, though the narrative gives Billy Kopecki (Jobe Hart on press night, sharing the whole with Austen Phelan and Theo Wilkinson) more to do. Baskin’s mother, known only as Mrs Baskin (Wendi Peters) – or otherwise simply ‘Mom’ – is a rather underwritten role, though Peters makes the most of a character fundamentally in a state of worry for most of the show.
The use of video projections (Ian William Galloway) is extensive but nonetheless useful, while the set (Simon Higlett) moves swiftly between different locations in the storyline with the kind of resources available to large-scale productions of this nature. The show has, of course, big (sorry) shoes to fill, given the enduring popularity of the 1988 motion picture on which it is heavily based. It is enjoyable on different levels – there’s some surprisingly subtle humour when it comes to the awkwardness of the novel situations Master Baskin finds himself in.
It also works because it explores both the desires of children who want to have a greater level of responsibility than they are really ready for, as well as the want (and arguably the need) for grown-ups to recall what it is to enjoy life. It’s telling that Josh doesn’t have time to even speak to Billy, his best friend, at one point because of a pressing work deadline. When I was thirteen, I only ever refused to speak to a friend because I ‘got the hump’ with them. But the lesson for Josh is learned – be careful what one wishes for, because it might just happen.
While the production values are clearly very high, the problem seems to lie with the musical numbers. They are, to be fair, more than sufficiently varied, ranging from high-octane all-singing all-dancing tunes to a ballad. The dance numbers are brilliantly choreographed. But the songs, by and large, don’t tell the audience anything that the spoken dialogue hasn’t already made clear, or indeed can reasonably work out for themselves. In the end, though, it’s a pleasant evening at the theatre, family-friendly, and never boring. A charming and amusing production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
BIG is a joyous, heart-warming musical about 12 year-old Josh Baskin who longs to be big. When a mysterious Zoltar machine grants his wish, he finds himself trapped inside an adult’s body and he is forced to live and work in a grown-up world, but his childlike innocence has a transforming effect on the adults he encounters.
With music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, BIG has a book by John Weidman and direction and choreography by Morgan Young. Associate choreographer is Helen Rymer, orchestrator and musical supervisor Stuart Morley, set and costume designer Simon Higlett, lighting designer Tim Lutkin, video designer Ian William Galloway, and sound designers Terry Jardine and Avgoustos Psillas, wig and hair designer Richard Mawbey, musical director Jeremy Wootton, illusions by Chris Fisher, casting directors Natalie Gallacher CDG for Pippa Ailion Casting and Sarah Bird CDG, and general management by David Pearson for Encore Theatre Productions Ltd.
Based on the Twentieth Century Fox Film BIG written by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg, Michael Rose, Damien Sanders and Paul Gregg for Encore Theatre Productions Limited present the Theatre Royal Plymouth production of BIG.
Cast includes: Jay McGuiness as Josh Baskin, Wendi Peters as Mrs Baskin, Kimberley Walsh as Susan Lawrence, Matthew Kelly as George MacMillan, Lori Haley Fox as Mrs Kopecki/Miss Watson and Edward Handoll as Paul Seymour, with Harrison Dadswell, Jamie O’Connor and Jake Simon sharing the role of Young Josh and Jobe Hart, Austen Phelan and Theo Wilkinson sharing the role of Billy.
Also in the cast will be Charlie Bull, Colin Burnicle, Christie-Lee Crosson, Vicki Davids, Alex Fobbester, Leanne Garretty, Stuart Hickey, Matt Holland, Tash Holway, Ross McLaren, Richard Murphy, Eddie Myles, Katharine Pearson, Anton Fosh, Gemma Fuller, Gary Murphy and Katy Osborne. There will be two teams of children in the musical, made up from Olufemi Alaka, Coco Cousin-Brown, Asher Ezeguiel, Ellis Griffiths, May Hayward, Imogen Law Hing Choy, Noah Leggott, Amaya Lucas, Ophelia Parsons, Bailey Radzan, Lucinda Wicks and Chanel Zinyemba.
10 September – 2 November 2019
268-269 Tottenham Court Road
LONDON W1T 7AQ