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Big the Musical

Big the Musical

★★½

Dominion Theatre

Big the Musical

Big the Musical

Dominion Theatre

Reviewed – 18th September 2019

★★½

 

“The book and score are entirely forgettable; the rhymes from a Hallmark card and devoid of wit or charm”

 

In 1996, eight years after the now legendary film, starring Tom Hanks, hit American screens, Big – The Musical premiered on Broadway. Nearly 25 years later, Morgan Young, director, choreographer and chief architect of this Dominion production, has finally realised his dream to bring it to the London stage. It has not aged well. Despite the inordinate amount of money clearly spent on this production, and a few very good performances, the whole show seems distinctly creaky, and slightly tawdry too, like a ride at a cheap fairground on which you slightly fear for your safety.

The story is that of 12 year old Josh Baskin (Jay McGuiness), who, sick of being small, makes a wish at a travelling carnival to be big, and wakes up in the morning with the body of a full-grown man. Fleeing from his terrified mother (Wendi Peters), who fails to recognise him, and with the aid of his best friend Billy (Jobe Hart in last night’s performance), he winds up in New York, where he rises to success at an ailing toy company owned by George MacMillan (Matthew Kelly), getting romantically entangled with Susan (Kimberley Walsh) along the way, before returning to his real age and his home. It’s a fairly slight tale, and the message, such as it is, is sentimental stuff – hang on to your childhood, don’t grow up too fast, and bring the honesty and playfulness of childhood into your adult life. Grown-ups get a pretty bad press in this fable all in all; the apogee of this being the dreadful yuppie dinner party in act two, in which, inexplicably, the supporting men appear to be dressed as versions of Alan Partridge. Sophisticated it isn’t; that quality being distinctly off-message it would appear.

The overall look of the show is disappointing, and the decision to use huge video screens as the centre piece of each scene is a mistake. It distracts from and deadens the action, and also, importantly, takes away from any attempt at intimacy. We are always at a big stadium gig, even in the show’s more tender moments, which serves them badly. The lighting doesn’t help either. All of which underlines the question continually in mind – ‘Why is this a musical?’. It feels like a musical by numbers because that’s exactly what it is. A traditional musical structure has been superimposed on a film narrative. And it doesn’t work. The book and score are entirely forgettable; the rhymes from a Hallmark card and devoid of wit or charm. The only moments to draw widespread audience laughter are in the spoken dialogue. Not a good sign.

The principals are well-cast and work hard. Jay McGuiness perfectly embodies the child-in-man Josh; Kimberley Walsh softens beautifully from power-dressed executive to the girl looking for love she so clearly is, and Matthew Kelly gives a tremendous turn as Macmillan. Wendi Peters is a consummate professional and lends performance oomph to a pretty scant role, but, as with the kids in the cast, she is of the strident MT singing style, which arguably runs counter to emotional depth. Jobe Hart did, however, stand out as Billy last night and most certainly has a musical theatre future. It’s a shame that all this professionalism serves such an underwhelming show.

Finally, it is more than disappointing to see an all-white adult chorus in a West End musical in 2019 (representing the working population of NEW YORK!), as it is to see the only transvestite/transexual character equated with the rotten underbelly of the city. Theatre at this level has no excuse not to do better.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Alastair Muir

 


Big the Musical

Dominion Theatre until 2nd November

 

Recent shows covered by this reviewer:

 

Bare: A Pop Opera | ★★★ | June 2019
Becoming The Invisible Woman | ★★ | June 2019
Three Sisters | ★★★★ | June 2019
Chiflón, The Silence of the Coal | ★★★★ | July 2019
Grey | ★★ | July 2019
Margot, Dame, The Most Famous Ballerina In The World | ★★★ | July 2019
Once On This Island | ★★★ | August 2019
The Weatherman | ★★★ | August 2019
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – Programme A | ★★★★ | September 2019
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – Programme C | ★★★★ | September 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Baby – 2 Stars

Baby

Baby

Drayton Arms Theatre

Reviewed – 25th October 2018

★★

“The characters are shallow, the plot non-existent, and the music counterintuitive”

 

“I’m pregnant” – so say the leading ladies of Baby in its first scene. And its third scene. And its final scene. Actually, the whole show is some variation of “I’m pregnant” or, in at least one case – spoiler alert – “I’m not pregnant”. Can a full-length musical dedicated to the idea of having a baby be boring? Hey, you said it, not me.

Baby was first produced on Broadway, in the 1980s, where it ran, modestly, for less than year. The show oozes an 80s aesthetic, as well as 80s cultural values, and there is a fair number of groans – landlines, moustaches, instances of casual misogyny. (How disappointing that, in the same month that Marianne Elliott took a 70s relic and made it fresh in Company, Baby director Mark Kelly somehow added ten years to his source material).

Baby doesn’t have much of a plot. Three couples learn they are pregnant; two of these pregnancies are unplanned. The couples are spuriously linked through one university where the men work or study, although this link is superfluous; the characters are united and reunited throughout the show by a series of awkward coincidences – bumping into each other on the street, that sort of thing.

The music in Baby is jaunty, except for the occasional wailer, and helps to carry the bizarre current of pep that zips through the score like Larry Bird on Diet Coke. The lyrics do tend to get a bit out there, taking intimate, personal moments, and throwing them into abstraction. Take, for example, the opening number, which I guess is about the process of conception:

Stop the moment, Take it in, Can’t you feel, The change begin?, Don’t you feel, The cosmic surge, As two lives begin to merge?

From my seat in row E there was no cosmic surge, but maybe you need to be closer to the stage.

Considering the drudge that is the source material, the cast do good work. Laurel Dougall as Pam Sakarian, a gym teacher who is desperate to get pregnant, is full of vim and tragedy, and really steals the show in act 2. Holli Paige Farr plays Lizzie Fields, a college student who gets knocked up by her boyfriend, cleverly and with dignity; she rises above the text.

The set design is minimal, but effective, and the costumes certainly bring home the 80s theme, although I can’t for the life of me figure out why the ensemble are so often dressed in baseball jerseys when they are not, in fact, playing baseball.

Baby was not a smash in 1983, and it has even less going for it now. The characters are shallow, the plot non-existent, and the music counterintuitive. Still, there are some good performances in this production at the Drayton Arms, and theatregoers should take note of the names Laurel Dougall and Holli Paige Farr, who, given better material, may one day really be able to send out those cosmic surges.

 

Reviewed by Louis Train

Photography by Thomas Scurr

 

Drayton Arms Theatre

Baby

Drayton Arms Theatre until 9th November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Are There Female Gorillas? | ★★★★ | April 2018
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee | ★★★★ | May 2018
No Leaves on my Precious Self | ★★ | July 2018
The Beautiful Game | ★★★ | August 2018
Jake | ★★★ | October 2018
Love, Genius and a Walk | | October 2018

 

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