Dominion Theatre, London – booking until 2 November 2019
A crucial moment in Big the Musical sees Zoltar the fortune-telling machine say “make your wish, make your wish…” and I think my wish is that one day the Dominion Theatre will find a show that properly suits it, and that can fill it – once again, this is not the one. Director/choreographer Morgan Young’s production of the classic 1980s movie initially looks swish – Simon Higlett’s design dominated by an impressive curved HD video wall but a raft of questionable decisions mitigate against it, almost at every step.
You can see the thinking behind the casting – a Strictly winner, someone off Corrie, a member of Girls Aloud even – but they just don’t feel like the best people for the roles by any stretch. Jay McGuiness doesn’t exude anywhere near the requisite amiability and charisma to be this kind of leading man and whilst he’s technically right there with the dancing – the Act 1 closer is brilliantly choreographed by Young – but there’s no emotion carrying through with it, near fatal when you’ve got Tom Hanks to live up to.
Similarly, it’s hard not to feel a sorely underused Wendi Peters and Matthew Kelly are mis-cast here, Someone needs to cast Peters in something big, she clearly has the voice for it (a Dolly or Mama Rose in the making) but this isn’t the right role for her, as the mother of a 13-year-old boy who wishes himself into an adult man’s body. Kimberley Walsh did impress me with her lovely sweet tone as the improbable love interest and Lori Haley Fox proves a rare moment of spot-on casting as her Miss Watson threatens to steal the scene with her every line.
More crucially for a musical with these kinds of ambitions, David Shire’s score is horribly anaemic. These are songs that you forget even while you’re listening to them, no inspiration comes from then, nor any real sense of time or place. There’s a real problem when the only recognisable tune is ‘Chopsticks’, a tune you might nod with recognition on hearing the first time, smile thinly at the second, and then grimace as an overlong routine is played out to it.
The piano bit is actually symptomatic of the problems of Big as a whole. It goes on too long and indulges entirely in cinematic nostalgia, gaining nothing in its theatrical staging (indeed, I wonder how it plays from the front stalls). Not to mention a book which singularly fails to grasp any of the stickiness inherent in the plot, (missing children, a ‘romantic’ connection between a 13 and a 30 year old), none of which taken at all seriously. Which ultimately may be the key to enjoying Big, switching off any kind of critical faculty, but doing that for nigh on three hours at these prices is a big ask.
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Alastair Muir
Big the Musical is booking at the Dominion Theatre until 2nd November
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