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A CurtainUp London Review

"What did you want to play with when you were 13?"
— Susan
Jay McGuiness as Josh and Kimberley Walsh as Susan
(Photo: Alastair Muir)
BIG was a high grossing film in 1988. There were several about that time where young and old did body swaps with consequential confusion. In 1996 the Broadway musical ran for just under 200 performances. In 2016 Strictly Come Dancing winner Jay McGuinesss starred in the British version for a week in Plymouth and a month in Ireland with talk of a West End transfer which materialised this year; "much anticipated" as the marketing department puts it!

It is difficult as a theatre reviewer brought into the industry by a love of plays to fully embrace musical theatre in the way that many in the audience do. I admire those of my critical colleagues who love musicals as much as plays. There is no question that musicals are what audiences want to see and each year, in the West End, and further afield, the percentage of musicals overtakes the number of plays.

I went to BIG with an open mind. I hadn't seen the movie in the 1980s but I watched snatches on You Tube and found Tom Hanks charming. Neither did I have any history with the Strictly Come Dancing winner, a show with its following in the millions or his band The Wanted. Kimberley Walsh impressed me with her performance in Elf at the Dominion in 2016.

The orchestra is impressive with its big band sound, the overture has big movie music, and small Josh (Jamie O'Connor) has a big voice. But in terms of storyline I find the sexual fantasies of 12 year old boys difficult to listen to and sub teen, pre-pubescent dating uncomfortable. More on this later.
The next big snag for me was Wendi Peters as Josh's Mom. No, not Wendy Peters, she has shuffled off this mortal coil. I found Wendi's singing voice raucous and she looked old enough to be the doubling Mr Baskin (Stuart Hickey in black wig)'s mother. But things can only get better and Josh's school friend and next door neighbour Billy (Jobe Hart) is a breath of fresh air.

As you'll know from the film, Josh asks a carnival showman to make him big and overnight is changed into the very tall Jay McGuiness. No Harry Potter magic here but waking up in pyjamas ten sizes too small. As Josh sets off to find the funfair and get back to normal, a night in the bus station precedes his meeting with the toy manufacturer boss, Mr MacMillan (Matthew Kelly). They relate to a love of toys in "Fun" the giant piano dance which is a highlight of this act. Matthew Kelly is charming as ever.

The toyshop brings in Kimberley Walsh as Head of Marketing and her magnificent voice raises the musical roof. Jay McGuinesss is much more successful and confident dancing than singing. When Susan suggests they spend the night, Josh thinking like a 13 year old presumes she's suggesting a sleepover. Again I was unsure about the implications of a 30 year old woman in a sexual dalliance with someone who is mentally 12 or 13. This scene ends on a star machine filling the auditorium with the song "Stars".

The second act improved things for me. The kids choreography in "It's Time" is cute, clever and full of energy. "Coffee Black" is the big dance number of the Toy Company executives as Josh is promoted.

The scene changes are through Ian William Galloway's video scapes and the costumes culminate in the finale with everyone in American red baseball jackets and white trousers/skirts.

The scene I liked best was the satirical evening when Susan introduces Josh to her adult and sophisticated friends. As they anticipate meeting him, Abigail (Vicki Davids), Nick (Ross McLaren), Tom (Colin Burnicle) and Diane (Tash Holway) sing mock opera in "The Real Thing" as they cattily recall Susan's heretofore disastrous love life. This scene sadly ends with Josh being given the keys to move his host's BMW.

BIG ends on an extended finale number and crowd pleaser which made me feel sad I couldn't like it more.
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • "Overture/Prologue" — Orchestra
  • "Can't Wait"— The Baskins, The Kopeckis, Billy, Young Josh, Company and Kids
  • "Talk to Her" — Billy and Young Josh
  • "Carnival" — Billy and Young Josh, Company and Zoltar
  • "Say Good morning to Mom" — Mrs Baskin
  • "This Isn't Me" — Josh
  • "Time of Your Life" — Company
  • "Fun" — MacMillan, Josh, The Company and Kids
  • "Welcome to MacMillan Toys" — Company Executives
  • "My Secretary's in Love" — Susan
  • "Office Politics" — Josh, Susan, Billy, Paul and Company Executives
  • "Let's Not Move Too Fast" — Susan
  • "Do You Want to Play Games" — Josh
  • "Stars" — Josh and Susan
  • "Cross the Line" — Josh, MacMillan and Company
Act Two
  • "Entr'acte" — Orchestra
  • "It's Time" — Billy and Kids
  • "Stop Time" — Mrs Baskin
  • "The Nightmare" — Kids and Company
  • "Dancing All the Time" — Susan
  • "I Want to Know" — Josh
  • "Coffee Black" — Josh, Miss Watson, MacMillan, and Executives Company
  • "The Real Thing" — Nick, Tom, Diane and Abigail
  • "The Real Thing Reprise" — Susan
  • "When You're Big" — Josh
  • "We're Gonna Be Fine" — Josh and Susan
  • "Finale" — Company

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Music by David Shire
Lyrics by Richard Maltby
Book by John Weidman
Directed and choreographed by Morgan Young
Starring: Jay McGuiness, Wendi Peters, Kimberley Walsh, Matthew Kelly, Jamie O’Connor, Jobe Hart
With: Lori Haley Fox, Edward Handoll, Harrison Dadswell, Jake Simon, Austen Phelan, Theo Wilkinson, Charlie Bull, Colin Burnicle, Christie-Lee Crosson, Vicki Davids, Alex Fobbester, Leanne Garretty, Stuart Hickey, Matt Holland, Tash Holway, Ross McLaren, Richard Murphy, Eddie Myles, Katharine Pearson, Anton Fosh, Gemma Fuller, Gary Murphy, Katy Osborne, Olufemi Alaka, Coco Cousin-Brown, Asher Ezeguiel, Ellis Griffiths, Imogen Law Hing Choy, Noah Leggott, Amaya Lucas, Cassia McCarthy, Ophelia Parsons, Bailey Razdan, Lucinda Wicks and Chanel Zinyemba.
Design: Simon Higlett
Musical Director: Jeremy Wooton
Musical Supervisor: Stuart Morley
Video Design: Ian William Galloway
Sound Designer: Avgoustas Psillas andTerry Jardine for Autograph
Lighting Design: Tim Lutkin
Fight director: Paul Benzing
Illusions: Chris Fisher
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0345 200 7982
Booking to 2nd November 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 18th September 2019 evening performance at The Dominion, 268-269 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 7AQ (Tube: Tottenham Court Road)
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