Big was big.
The story of the 12 year-old whose wish to be grown up is granted appealed to wide audiences. The 1988 movie solidified Tom Hanks as a leading man. Between the film box office and the emerging home video market, Big earned more than $200 million.
Eight years after the film’s big success, Broadway came calling, looking for a big hit. Years ahead of today’s steady film-to-musical formula, the Broadway musical based on Big was not a blockbuster success. At 193 performances on Broadway, Big was not that big.
Undeterred by a relatively short run and lukewarm reviews, the creative team went back to the drawing board for a revision that went on a national tour and found a home in regional theatres and high schools across the country.
Aiming at theatergoers of all ages, an even more revised – and condensed – version of the musical has premiered at Glen Echo’s Adventure Theatre – Musical Theatre Center. This is a big stroke of luck for the Washington area. Adventure Theatre-MTC has the distinction of presenting the world premiere of the brand new Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) version of Big, due in large part to AT-MTC producing artistic director Michael J. Bobbitt’s involvement.
Bobbitt and Jeff Frank of Milwaukee’s First Stage worked together to adapt the full length musical with the full approval of the show’s original creative team. Like other TYA titles, the meat of the story is preserved along with key musical sequences, but the running time is a friendly 70 to 80 minutes.
Big – TYA, as performed at Adventure Theatre, is a delightful production that will entertain patrons, 6 to 96. The show has a great big heart, boasts some big voices, and should be a huge success. (Aren't you glad I didn’t use ‘big’?)
The dual messages – be careful what you wish for and don’t grow up too fast – are not heavy-handed, but are made clear just in the simple story-telling.
In Big, the music and lyrics are by one of the lesser known yet thoroughly professional American composer-lyricist teams, David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr. Outside of theatre insiders, Shire and Maltby – Baby, and the musical revues “Starting Here, Starting Now,” and “Closer Than Ever” – are not household names. However, they are gifted craftsmen of catchy melodies and clever lyrics.
Big contains one of the best theatre songs of the 1990s: “Stop, Time,” sung by Josh’s mother as she celebrates her missing son’s 13th birthday. Not a powerhouse ballad, it is a gentle yet powerful anthem for parents who witness their children grow up too quickly.
“Stop, Time” is movingly sung by Kate Fisher as Mrs. Baskin. Fisher strikes a strong balance of doting yet exasperated mother and possesses a powerfully warm singing voice.
Other musical highlights include “This Isn’t Me,” Josh’s awakening song as a grown-up; and “Fun,” sung by Josh and the employees at the toy company, which includes the iconic floor piano moment from the film.
Sharing the role of wishful teenager Josh Baskin are Marley McKay (kid) and Gregory Maheu (adult). Both McKay and Maheu convincingly convey the awkwardness of a kid on the verge of those treacherous teen years. As the older Josh, Maheu has a strong singing voice and ease onstage that readily wins the audience. The younger McKay – previously Young Scrooge in the Ford’s Theatre A Christmas Carol – does just fine on his own.
Billy, Josh’s best friend, who steals several scenes, is played by Brendan Debonis. Possessing the comic timing of an old pro, Debonis soared as the earphone-wearing wingman.
Janine Sunday, as Susan, seems as innocently dazzled by Josh’s whimsical nature as he is with the world around him. They share a charming duet, “Stars,” on the night of their first date.
Veteran director and performer at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, Lawrence Munsey appears as the head of MacMillan Toys and the mysterious Zoltar. Munsey and the entire ensemble gives energetic performances that offers the audience a breezy good time.