London Theatre Review: BIG at the Dominion Theatre
| By Shanine Salmon
After making its Broadway debut 23 years ago and its UK premiere in both Plymouth and Dublin two years ago, BIG The Musical (based on the film by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg), makes its long-awaited West End debut at London's Dominion Theatre. But was it worth the wait? Find out below 👇
"This limited production, running for just 9 weeks, is certainly not limited in scale"
BIG The Musical is in a long line of screen-to-stage adaptations. The film is a classic, both culturally and in Tom Hanks’ lead performance. A musical version can be an interesting adaptation. Kinky Boots, for example, created more depth in its stage version. This limited production, running for just 9 weeks, is certainly not limited in scale. Multiple sets rotate around the vast Dominion stage and Simon Higlett’s design is as indulgent as any production set in the 1980s should be.
Morgan Young’s direction and choreography isn’t intimidated by the space but as a result, this large production doesn’t always connect with the audience, partly due to the lack of show-stopping and memorable songs from David Shire and Richard Maltby, who get the essence of the film but no sense of the period in terms of musical style.
How do the West End cast of BIG The Musical fare?
Jay McGuinness stars as the ‘grown-up’ Josh who, after wishing he was older and taller, finds his wish has come true. He has to make his own way in the world and after a lucky meeting with toy factory owner George Macmillan (the always wonderful Matthew Kelly), he gets to live any 13-year-old’s dream life; his own apartment and working as a toy consultant for this large corporation. He also finds love with Kimberly Walsh’s Susan Lawrence. Walsh is the highlight of the show. As an experienced performer, she has great comedic timing and seems to be having a lot of fun with the role.
Jay McGuinness, on the other hand, has the voice and the dance moves (though the famous keyboard scene’s design could be improved), but he really seemed to struggle to command the stage. This is something that should improve over time because he has great chemistry with the cast and gives a charming performance.
There are some wonderful supporting performances not only from Wendi Peters (who has a beautiful voice and makes you forget that she may be slightly miscast for this role) as Josh’s mother, who assumes her son has been kidnapped but also from Edward Handoll as Paul, whose antagonist role is limited but remains such a charismatic performer. The child cast we saw on the night was strong too, with Billy, Josh’s best friend, played by Jobe Hart on the night I saw it, giving a strong performance as the child influence in Josh’s grown-up world.
The Verdict: Does the musical BIG live up to its big hype?
It is a nice story about growing up too fast and it is as timely as ever. When the songs hit the mark, such as ‘Dancing All the Time’ when Susan questions where that carefree child she was disappeared, it is a great show but there isn’t a key number here. Not every show needs a ‘Defying Gravity’ but it certainly needs a show that sums up its place in the world. I wish the musical were as special as the film but it's still a fun show for children and grown-ups alike!
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