Dominion Theatre, London – booking until 2 November 2019
This is a lavish revival of the 1996 musical version of the 1988 Tom Hanks fantasy comedy, complete with rootin’ tootin’ orchestra, smashing sets and a very capable cast. It must have cost a bomb to put on, and is visually spectacular, thrilling entertainment.
In case you need reminding of the story, 12-year-old Josh Baskin wants to be “big” (ie grown up) to impress a pretty, slIghtly older, girl at his school. His wish is granted following a mysterious encounter with a slot machine at a fairground. His parents think this adult who suddenly emerges at breakfast has kidnapped their son and Josh can only convince his best friend of the truth of what has happened. He flees into a (very dangerous-looking) New York, joins an ailing toy company which has lost the knack of finding what kids find fun, and revives its fortunes. He also meets his grown-up love interest Susan Lawrence there.
It may feel a little odd though, in this age of #Me Too and heightened sexual awareness, to revisit a story about a boy who actually finds what looks like proper love with a lonely adult woman. The sort of thing might have been acceptably quirky and downright amusing in 1988, but feels a little weird today.
But it’s a thoroughly enjoyable evening. As the young version of our hero Josh, Jamie O’Connor is sweet and very capable at belting out his tunes, and Jay McGuiness (of pop star and Strictly fame) is also very adroit as the Big Baskin, moving with the right amount of childlike awkwardness (just as Tom Hanks did in the film) and really holding his own with big numbers like ‘This Isn’t Me’ and ‘When You’re Big’.
As Susan, Kimberley Walsh hit just the right caustic notes early on as a cynical office drone, and is sweet as the woman who finds love in this unlikely quarter and has her perspective changed. She can, as we know, sing extremely well.
There is fun to be had. The moment when Josh meets her friends at a dinner party is laced with brilliantly knowing jokes, as is the moment when they fall against each other and he finds his reaction in his nether regions not quite what he is expecting. He has just turned 13 after all. There is also a scene when the two seemingly do go off and have sex, and the ironies of Josh’s song when they are alone together (‘Do You Want To Play Games’) are obvious, but no less funny when Susan can’t believe what she is hearing.
Walsh also relishes the moments when her character thinks she’s found the man of her dreams, praising his innocence and directness, in contrast to all the sad sacks she’s been shacked with. Her songs also give a poignant sense of her loneliness and yearning. The parting of the ways is movingly and sensitively done.
So, all in all, smashing fun if you can cope with the fact that at the heart of it is a power-relationship dynamic raising slightly akward questions. But not in a Big way.
box office 0844 847 1775. to 2 Nov