TIM WALKER called the performance a good-looking, good-natured, feelgood production
One’s hopes for Big: The Musical were miniscule. The idea of making a show out of the schmaltzy 1988 Tom Hanks film – about a kid whose wish to be ‘big’ is granted – is of course inherently preposterous. What next: a huge water tank centre-stage, a few legs twitching nervously, and, just when you thought it was safe to go back into the theatre, Jaws: The Musical?
Sometimes, not often, a show manages to transcend everything – venal, lazy producers keen to cash in on an existing brand, a bonkers plot, a notoriously difficult venue – and turns out to be startlingly good. Morgan Young’s Big: The Musical falls under this category. It’s a good-looking, good-natured, feelgood production, but it also has a good deal to say for itself.
Three decades after the film came out, the plot has matured into something special. Too often these days, children are being deprived of their childhoods. The world wide web, among so many other things, is all but incompatible with innocence.
The 12-year-old Josh Baskin – played on opening night by Jamie O’Connor – quickly regrets telling a possessed fairground genie called Zoltar that he wants to be big. His first reaction, when he wakes up the next morning and sees himself in the mirror as a 6ft hunk with a six-pack (having metamorphosed into Jay McGuiness), is “gross”.
Materially, he is soon doing pretty well for himself, securing a well-paid job as the chief tester in Matthew Kelly’s toy factory, a flat with panoramic city views and a stunning girlfriend in Kimberley Walsh, but is it all worth the sacrifice of his youth?
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button also gets into the issue of what happens when the seven ages of man fall out of sync, but, oddly, I feel Big: The Musical does so more movingly and compellingly. Josh’s love scene with his girlfriend is handled with extraordinary sensitivity. The show also communicates very adroitly the emptiness of Josh’s life as a 1980s yuppie.
McGuiness is a lot more charismatic than Tom Hanks in the central role and his rugged good looks make his predicament all the more poignant: Women are attracted to him, but he hasn’t the confidence to handle them. Kelly, meanwhile, gives a great character turn as his boss at the toy shop, and Walsh acquits herself well as his puzzled but patient love interest.
Simon Higlett’s set design is lavish, with especially impressive evocations of corporate life in 1980s America, and the music and lyrics, from respectively David Shire and Richard Maltby, are great fun, if not especially memorable.
If I didn’t go out humming the big numbers, I had something to think about. I wondered if I’d have been willing to trade a moment of my childhood for all of Josh’s material success in adulthood. Not one second of it. Adulthood is interminable and always ends badly. Childhood, by contrast, is one brief shining moment: anything that brings it to an end prematurely is a very bad thing.