Big the Musical review: the harsh side of growing up

A huge encore and digital momentum add colour and noise but children might struggle to see anything fun about being an adult in this adaptation

Big The Musical at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre  in Dublin

Big The Musical at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin

 

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin

***

What is the appeal of Big for a family audience? In the original film, which starred a young Tom Hanks, the story’s success seemed to hinge on one memorable scene, where the protagonist – a 12-year-old trapped in the body of a man – plays a duet with the owner of the toy emporium FAO Schwarz on an enormous touch-toe piano. The rest of the story is dedicated to stripping away all the illusions of adulthood as being anything worth aspiring to. The fundamental message – and the problem for this production from director/choreographer Morgan Young – is that there just isn’t enough fun in the serious business of being a grown up. Big is a cautionary tale for adults watching, perhaps, but a harsh way to initiate children into depressing reality.

This stage adaptation of the film, with a book by John Wiedman, is facilitated by designer Simon Higglet, who pitches a revolving set against a HD 3D digital backdrop that evokes the celluloid original and gives spectacular momentum to scene changes. The songs by David Shire and Richard Maltby offer a hodge-podge of 1980s hedonism that is mirrored in Young’s choreography: soft rock riffs give way to beat-box street styles, while the occasional ballad gives female performers such as Diana Vickers the opportunity to showcase their tremolos. As the love-interest Susan, Vickers embraces the challenge of turning cynicism into something special in her solo numbers Here We Go Again and Dancing All the Time, while her duet with Jay McGuinness’s Josh, Stars Stars Stars, is probably the most memorable song in a lacklustre score made even limper by literal lyrics. Unfortunately McGuinness, who amply showcases his acting and dancing talent, doesn’t have a solo number of note.

It says a lot about the limited potential of this story that the company of actors and dancers have most fun in the enormous encore. Adults may find a lesson in Josh’s ill-fated journey, but the kids would be better served by staying at home and playing with their toys.

Ends January 7th