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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Big
Dominion Theatre   Autumn 2019

I say this without irony or judgement: some people go to the theatre for exciting new experiences and some want the comfort of assured, familiar, no-surprises entertainment.

It is to the second group that I recommend Big.

The 1996 stage musical based on the 1988 Tom Hanks film about a twelve-year-old boy who finds himself in a thirty-year-old body failed on Broadway. But it retains the plot and much of the charm of the film, so audiences can come in knowing exactly what they're going to get and leave happily having got it.

As in the film, young Josh makes an impulsive wish and wakes up as an adult. Once among adults his boyish judgements are taken as clever, his boyish confusions as charm, and he finds himself an executive in a toy company, inspiring the personal interest of a female exec.

But as exciting as his new world is, he misses home, mother and the simplicity of a child's life.

Composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby started writing musicals in the 1950s, and they are consummate professionals. There isn't a dud in the entire score, but then again there isn't much that you'll find memorable.

Probably the best song in the show, Stop Time, a mother's lament about the mixed feelings of watching a child grow up, is really peripheral to the main story.

And the best musical number is taken straight from the movie, as Josh and the toy company head play Chopsticks by dancing on a giant keyboard. (Notably it is that number that gets a reprise in the post-curtain-calls encore and what you are likely to go out humming.)

Jay McGuiness brings the right level of boyish charm to the role of grown-up Josh. You won't for a minute believe he's a twelve-year-old in a grown-up body (as Tom Hanks was able to suggest), but you will like the character and wish him a happy ending.

Kimberly Walsh combines sexiness with a warmth that surprises the character herself, and Matthew Kelly plays the boss with the effortless ease of an old pro.

Given too little to do as Josh's mother, Wendi Peters makes the most of her one big song.

There are things to criticise. Director Morgan Young's choreography is undistinguished, and even the big chorus dance sequences never catch fire.

What passes for a plot complication – the jealousy and interference of a rival toy company executive – just disappears, along with the character, early in Act Two.

And I do have to say that the iconic Chopsticks dance, fun as it is, is just a bit spoiled when the giant piano keys light up as they are supposedly danced on, making it all too obvious that the dancers' feet aren't even coming close.

But as I said, Big is not intended for people like me who are inclined to judge and criticise. It is for those who want an unchallenging and guaranteed Good Night Out, and it delivers that.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Big - Dominion Theatre 2019