Big, The Musical -- Theater Review

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"Big, The Musical" (1996) hasn't fared nearly as well as "Big" the film (1987), which can be partly explained by the presence of Tom Hanks in the movie. Hanks' charming portrayal of Josh Baskin, a 12-year-old boy trapped in the body of a 30 year-old man, is hard to duplicate, and adding music to the story doesn't necessarily make it easier.

Not that the musical isn't without its pleasures. The show has been rewritten by John Weidman since it opened on Broadway and closed less than six months later, earning itself the reputation of a costly money-loser. The songs from David Shire (music) and Richard Maltby (lyrics) are often tuneful and catchy, and the dancing kids, helped by Christine Lakin's clever choreography, are engagingly spirited.

At the same time, the music tends to call attention to the show's main problem: Who is the audience for this musical fable -- child, tween, adolescent or grownup? The songs take us deeper into the psychology and pitfalls of becoming a man-child overnight, but they also place an additional burden on the actor playing Josh to make the story credible in emotional terms.

Will Collyer's acting chops are a little light for this tricky part. We can suspend belief up to a point, but we need to be reasonably persuaded that an intelligent, experienced woman could fall in love with Josh simply because he radiates childlike innocence. This kind of innocence has its limits, especially if it doesn't promise something a little more interesting down the road than mild bewilderment. Collyer has trouble conveying this side of the equation. His best moments come when he sings "Coffee Black," a bracing number that proclaims Josh's newfound sense of manhood to his coworkers.

Darrin Revitz does a fine job as Susan, the woman who brings out the man in Josh, whether we believe she's in love with him or not. Revitz finds what's amusing in the part -- "Let's Not Move Too Fast" -- and sings with a confidence some of the cast members lack.

Sterling Beaumon is scrappy and boyish as young Josh's loyal buddy, Billy, and L.J. Benet is appealing as young Josh. Larry Lederman is a strong presence as MacMillan, the toy company boss who takes a chance on Josh. Richard Israel directs.

Venue: West Coast Ensemble at the El Centro Theatre, Hollywood (Through June 28)
Cast: Will Collyer, Darrin Revitz, Sterling Beaumon, Larry Lederman, L.J. Benet, Lisa Picotte, Frank Romeo, Alex Scolari, Stephen Vendette, Jake Wesley Stewart, Johanna Kent, Sara J. Stuckey
Book: John Weidman
Music: David Shire
Lyrics: Richard Maltby
Director: Richard Israel
Choreographer: Christine Lakin
Musical direction: Daniel Thomas
Set designer: Stephen Gifford
Lighting designer: Lisa D. Katz
Costume designer: Sharon McGunigle
Sound designer: Cricket Myers
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