BWW Review: BIG THE MUSICAL, Dominion Theatre
BIG the Musical first premiered on Broadway in 1996 and closed after just six months. It had its UK & Ireland premiere in Plymouth in 2016, shortly followed by a stint in Dublin - both starring Jay McGuiness as Josh, who reprises the role for this West End production.
Despite this being a limited run, there has been no holding back on staging, with an impressively elaborate set design by Simon Higlett. It utilises the huge Dominion stage cleverly with the use of revolves and some impactful video and lighting design (Tim Lutkin and Ian William Galloway respectively) that helps with pacing and evoking the 1980s New York context.
Unfortunately, the structure of production itself is problematic. Musical numbers are crammed in too closely in Act I, giving us far too little time to buy into the character development in an authentic way.
Richard Maltby and David Shire's score has been designed to shortcut this, and attempts to give the audience insights into who these people are - particularly with the role of Susan (played by Kimberley Walsh) - but, given the simplistic lyrics, doesn't quite achieve this goal. Melodically, though, the score is pleasing and there are some catchy numbers that capture the moment well.
With some songs cut out, it would give time for some additional scenes between Josh and Susan, which would have been nice to see. McGuiness and Walsh have a nice chemistry together, and it would have been interesting to see more of that to make their relationship feel more believable.
Jay McGuiness handles the difficult role of Josh - a 13-year-old boy in the body of a man - confidently and ably. There's always a fear, when films are adapted for the stage, that we'll be watching a poor pastiche of the original actors, so stalwart lovers of the Big movie will be pleased to hear that McGuiness doesn't even attempt to be Tom Hanks. Instead, he makes the role completely his own, is utterly charming, and manages to find a good balance between the humour and fear of young Josh's situation. His physicality lends itself well to this role, bounding around the stage with relentless energy and handling Morgan Young's choreography with apparent ease.
Chris Fisher's special effects are few, but impressive. There's a dream sequence that ends with an unexpected illusion, and the clever transition from old to young Josh garnered a full round of applause.
The high-concept premise of BIG was always going to be challenging to translate into a stage production, and, in this case, the production lacks balance. But if you're looking to see some of your favourite scenes played out (you know the one...) alongside colourful choreography and some catchy music, then you're in for a good time - just don't expect to feel much more than that.
Photo credit: Alastair Muir