The long awaited world premiere production of Big has finally hit the stage and is definitely worth the wait. This first fully staged collaboration between Adventure Theatre and the Musical Theatre Center (MTC) combines the strength of a powerhouse production company with a young people’s artistic and educational training program with remarkable results. And believe me, we’re all the better for it.
It takes a special talent to be able to re-configure a Broadway show that was based on a fun-filled movie starring one of the most charismatic and beloved actors alive to a show for the 5 and up set. Undaunted by the challenge, Adventure Theatre/MTC’s Producing Artistic Director Michael Bobbitt was one of two adapters selected to get the job done, which they did with flash and flair.
Speaking of flash, the versatile, bright, light-filled set, designed by Elizabeth McFadden, depicts an urban skyline, where the vertical planks were backlit by primary colors or grey or vibrant clownish carnival reds. The bed rolls out for bedtime routines along with twinkling stars, as easily as an office chair and desk for Josh’s big time New York job.
The script follows the basic story-line of an adolescent teen who wants desperately to grow up and be taken seriously. When a magical carnival fortune telling machine grants his wish, the boy finds himself in a grown-up body with big feet and hands, (and hair in unexpected places—great lyrics). While the story is familiar, the music and engaging songs are totally fresh.
The actors are a winning ensemble starting with the two leads portraying young and older-looking Josh played by Marley McKay and Gregory Maheu respectively. McKay opens the show relating all of the pre-teen angst of a youngster trying to fit in and be accepted while yearning to be taken seriously by the equivalent of Charlie Brown’s “little red-haired girl” who’ll barely gives him a glance. Maheu as Josh’s big self relays the innocent charm of a twelve-year old, ready to fling into play, while caught in the cross-hairs of being an adolescent in a big-guy’s body.
Also in a commanding role is Brendan Debonis as friend Billy whose character was expanded from the adult production to emphasize the importance of the buddy relationship between the two.
Kate Fisher who plays Josh’s mom is an accomplished lyrical soprano with a tender touch as she cares for and then misses her son. Janine Sunday as potential love interest Susan deftly handles the crisscrossed personal and relational situation with a delicate touch since we that that Josh is underage, although he looks like a collegiate hottie.
Another stand out is veteran musical actor Lawrence Munsey in various roles, especially Mr. MacMillan, the gruff corporate director who takes the time to listen to Josh and tap into his playful side. Munsey handles the transition with ease, sings and dances up and down the keyboard—yes, that scene is obviously a Must, with the piano keys beautifully embellishing the walls and the floor, and Bobbitt’s direction rocks the house. As seen in this instance and throughout, the award winning director has a special knack for exquisite artistry while tapping into his own inner child– Big is perfectly suited for him, and it shows.
From the opening scene when the youngsters are bustling about in their own worlds, yakking on cell phones, or oblivious to the rest of the world nodding to the beat of music through earphones, Bobbitt assures authenticity and fun. When best friend Billy can’t get through to his increasingly distant buddy, Billy gets so frustrated that he inexplicitly breaks out into a hilarious rap number.
Big, the Musical TYA
Adventure Theatre MTC
7300 MacArthur Blvd
Glen Echo, MD 20812
1 hour, 20 minutes with no intermission
Tuesdays thru Sundays
The production is filled with zany moments along with memorable musical numbers that range from the tender yearnings of “Talk to Her” to the bustling “Time of Your Life,” to the sweet duet between the two Joshes in “I Want to Know.” They all work. Even a technical glitch that required a “do-over” for one of the numbers during the opening show couldn’t dampen the spirit or enthusiasm—if anything, it heightened the appreciation for the artistry.
With the Musical Theatre Center now as a blended part of the company, the depth and range of Adventure Theatre’s subsequent productions can be ratcheted up to include energetic young people who are Broadway bound. Big is the first product of the combined offering and shows the enormous youthful talent in the metro area. We’ll see many of these youngster’s names in lights, and it’s exciting to be able to catch their starts in such a remarkable production as Big.
Big, the Musical Book by John Weidman, Music by David Shire, Lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., Based on the motion picture “Big” written by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg, Adapted for TYA by Michael J. Bobbitt and Jeff Frank, Directed and choreographed by Michael J. Bobbitt, Produced by Adventure Theatre, MTC. Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson