“Big: The Musical” at the York Theatre Company (Closed Sunday October 19, 2014)

October 15, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Book by John Weidman
Music by David Shire
Lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr.
Directed by Michael Unger
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Kleider machen Leute” (Clothes people make.) – Gottfried Keller

In mufti, with all the typical theatrical trappings stripped away, “Big: The Musical” becomes just small enough to really understand the characters in this iconic musical, clearly relate to their conflicts, and share in and relate to the stories these child and adult-sized conflicts spin. In its current run at the York Theatre Company, there is nothing to distract the audience from the raw emotion of a boy having his wish to be grown up granted only to discover adulthood has its own complexities especially when seen through the eyes of a twelve year old going on thirteen.

“Big: The Musical” follows Josh through his stint with adulthood and his employment at the MacMillan Toy Company and his head-over-heels love affair with MacMillan Vice President Susan Lawrence played to perfection by Kerry Butler. Ms. Butler and John Tartaglia who plays the adult Josh Baskin make theatre magic together and portray the tension between the “adult” Josh (he is still just thirteen!) and Susan with palpable believability and authenticity. Their yearning for love and Josh’s decision to “return” to childhood serve as important tropes for the vicissitudes of life, the importance of values in making decisions, the often elusive nature of love, and the importance of “going home.”

The ensemble cast works well together to successfully dramatize the complexities of life and love and the yearning for acceptance. Hayden Wall is wonderful as the young Josh Baskin who visits Zoltar (Tom Lucca) and makes his wish to be “big.” Equally wonderful is the vivacious and uber-talented Jeremy Shinder who portrays Josh’s best-friend-forever Billy Kopecki and does all he can to arrange for a second visit to the nearest Zoltar so Josh can wish himself back into boyhood. Under Michael Unger’s utilitarian direction, this extraordinary cast makes this musical in mufti excel. Eric Svejcar’s musical direction is appropriate for the scaled down “Big” and his keyboard skills (with the unnamed bass player) provide energy and support for the cast.

York Theatre’s “Big” is the New York premiere of the script and score created by the authors for the show’s national tour and is a significantly revised version of the show with eight new Maltby and Shire songs yet to be recorded. Although all of the show’s songs are memorable, perhaps most notable are “Big Boys” (Josh and Billy); “Let’s Not Move Too Fast” (Susan); “Stars” (Josh and Susan); “Little Susan Lawrence” (Susan); “Stop, Time” (Janet Metz as Mrs. Baskin); “The Real Thing” (Tom/Tom Lucca, Abigail/Whitney Brandt), Diane/Trista Dollison, and Nick/Liam Forde); and “We’re Gonna Be Fine” (Josh and Susan).

After Walter Charles served notice he could not continue his commitment to the production, “Big’s” lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. assumes the role of George MacMillan. What a treat for the audience to see this iconic lyricist perform this role. No casting director could have found a better replacement for Mr. Charles.

This stripped down version surpasses the original Broadway production but – despite all the revisions – it still lacks the big ending it needs. Kids want toys that are fun. Sometimes audiences want endings that are not only happy but fun and big. And everyone – including Billy, young Josh, his mother, and Susan – wants to know about home: what is it; where is it; and how does one get there? Sounds like a Broadway revival with a big ending in the making.