Big, at the Dominion Theatre in London, is based on the 1988 American film starring Tom Hanks. Oftentimes adapting a musical from a film can lead to less convincing scores and a feeling of shoehorning a plot into a musical setting. Following the story of Josh Baskin, a twelve year old boy in New Jersey, this musical explores adulthood and maturity and friendship. Baskin wishes on a Zoltar machine (a fortunetelling arcade machine) to be ‘big’ and his wish is granted the next day. The story then follows the adult Baskin on his journey throughout New York City as he lands a dream job as a toy tester.
The talent of the children playing Josh, Billy and their friends was undeniable with American charm and enthusiasm dripping off their every move and word. Billy, played by Jobe Hart, was especially captivating with a really natural energy on stage and a warmth that exuded from his character. Despite the all-star cast including Jay McGuiness (Big Josh) and Kimberley Walsh (Susan Lawrence) it was the child actors that I thought gave the musical the life it needed. However perhaps that is to be expected of a musical that celebrates children and not growing up too fast.
McGuiness, from the Wanted, and Walsh, from Girls Aloud, were the two main adult actors as big Josh and his love interest Susan. Walsh didn’t appear comfortable or confident on stage until she had gotten through her first two songs and McGuinness failed to maintain that childish energy into act 2. Although it could be argued that big Josh began to mature into his adult body in Act 2, I still expected to see some remnants of his twelve year old brain in some of his actions. I also started to feel increasingly uncomfortable when their relationship started to progress and become more physical – increasingly aware this was a twelve year old ‘boy’ with a woman in her late 20s/early 30s in a story originally produced in the 1980s. My fellow theatregoer also commented on this fact and we decided not to dwell on this aspect for too long as it began to detract from the overall performance but something to consider – has the plot aged well?
The set was stupendous – a wonderful rotating stage with many different set-ups – one particular favourite was the Christmas office party which featured a large staircase down to the centre of the stage. The houses of Billy and Josh were really homely and brought the audience directly into the children’s homes – inviting us into their family set-up. A final shout out must go to Matthew Kelly who excelled as George MacMillan, the head of the toy company that hires Baskin. An amicable and smart old man he really pushes the adults to embrace their inner child and leads the company in a number of fun songs.
To conclude we must end with the songs and music which, although entertaining, were not particularly catchy or memorable. I left the theatre acknowledging I had a ‘jolly’ time which although made for a lovely evening didn’t result in me searching the diary for a date to bring a friend back to see it. A well-performed production but a musical that perhaps was best to remain a film.