Paul T Davies reviews Big the musical now playing at the Dominion Theatre, London.
Based on the film Big, starring Tom Hanks and featuring the often watched clip of the “keyboard dance”, the musical, book by John Weidman, music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, arrives for a short run at the Dominion. Twelve year old Josh Baskin makes a wish at a fairground stall to be big, and overnight inhabits the body of the grown up version of himself. This leads to him getting a job at company producing toys, falling in love, (mainly platonically), with Susan Lawrence, until pressure leads to him reverting back. It’s a pretty slim story, and the musical sags in places, but it’s swept along by the enthusiastic and loveable cast, who do much to bring the show to life.
There has been some controversy recently surrounding the casting of vlogger and Strictly finalist Joe Suggs in Waitress, seemingly lacking musical theatre experience. I say, judge on performances, and here there are no fears surrounding the casting of Strictly Come Dancing 2015 winner Jay McGuiness in the lead role of Big Josh Baskin. He has training in musical theatre and years of experience with the group The Wanted, and he is a joy to watch in this show. The reasons why he won Strictly are obvious, he works hard, moves very well, and has bags of charm and is hugely likeable- he is perfect for this role and the audience adore him. Fellow Strictly graduate Kimberly Walsh as love interest Susan is equally good, belting out her numbers and relaxing into the role as Susan begins to shed the ambition that comes with being older. Matthew Kelly gives a good turn as toy boss George MacMillan, and Jobe Hart almost stole the show on press night as Billy, Josh’s friend, hilarious and confident. Women are reduced to coffee makers and mums, which means the wonderful Wendi Peters is somewhat underused as Mrs. Baskin, a big shame as her second act ballad, Stop Time, is a highlight.
The problem with the show is that the music is, overall, quite bland, and it becomes tricky to distinguish one song from another. The keyboard dancing sequence occurs quite early, and Chopsticks is about the only tune that stays in your head after curtain down. Set in the late 1980s, the music sounds older, and much of the choreography harks back to an earlier, golden era of Hollywood musicals. And the material begins to really stretch in Act Two, with a dinner party sequence proving itself almost pointless, it could be removed from the show and not affect the structure or story one iota.
That is balanced out by the ensemble, who put heart and soul into each number, and Cross The Line and Coffee Black are rousing group numbers, and McGuiness and Walsh really get to show off their ballroom skills. It won’t set the theatre world alight, but this show is BIG on charm, BIG on fun, had me smiling throughout, and, for a few weeks, will shine a big family friendly light on a, currently, lacklustre West End.