Dominion Theatre (venue)
17 September 2019 (released)
21 September 2019
For those old enough to remember the smash hit, 1988 American film starring Tom Hanks, Big the musical, (which premiered on Broadway in 1996) offers no surprises and plenty of nostalgia. Over twenty years later, after a short run in Plymouth and Dublin 2016, it’s the first time the show has come to London. Big definitely falls into the festive family musical category and its well put together with pleasant music by David Shire and a solid cast. However, over twenty years since it was created, it’s hard to see why this show is relevant to a contemporary audience and at times the gender politics feel a little uncomfortable.
Josh Baskin is twelve and sick of being small, he makes a wish at the fun-fair to grow BIG. That night, he turns into a grown up and has to face the adult world – being alone, getting a job, and dating the beautiful Susan played by Kimberley Walsh (from Girls Aloud). The problem with the original story-line is that watching grown up Susan, kiss a thirteen year old boy just feels wrong. It’s not her fault, she doesn’t know (he’s in an adult body if you haven’t seen the film) but it’s weird. No amount of songs insisting that Josh really wants to sleep with this woman three times his age can take that away. Would they ever make a play with the sexes reversed? I don’t think they’d go that far which tells you something.
That said, Kimberley Walsh sings well and Matthew Kelly is good casting as the jovial founder of McMillan’s toy store who spots Josh’s potential to turn his failing business around. Strictly winner, Jay McGuiness, is almost understated as Josh – Tom Hanks boots are big ones to fill so going for a naturalistic performance was probably wise and at times, quite touching. He genuinely feels the same age young cast member Jobe Hart who gives a feisty performance as his best friend Billy.
The design is slick with a clever combination of traditional set and shifting projections. Perhaps the most theatrical moment is the discovery of Zoltar, the fortune telling machine, abandoned in a dark, deserted corner of the fairground. As Josh makes his wish, a storm breaks overhead and for a moment we are all transported into the childlike state where anything can happen if you wish hard enough. If you’re prepared to put aside the weirdness of the romance, it’s certainly a show with a wide appeal and a festive feel.
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