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Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012

‘Big’ Fun at First Stage

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There’s nothing small about the super-sized production of Big, the Musical at First Stage Children’s Theater. The cast is big, the production numbers are big and the special effects are big. This is a not-to-be-missed show playing through Nov. 11 at the Todd Wehr Theater, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

Based on the funny, delightful 1988 film starring Tom Hanks, a child-sized Big, the Musical began taking shape in the 1990s. It wound up as a Broadway musical flop. However, a new team, working with the show’s original creators, has done an excellent job of condensing a full-scale musical into 90 minutes of nonstop fun.

The story begins as Josh, 12, is frustrated by nagging parents and a would-be girlfriend who chooses an older guy. He finds Zoltar, a mechanized wizard, at a carnival sideshow. The wizard grants his wish to be big, and Josh soon starts to learn what it means to be a grown-up. He wakes up the next morning as a full-grown man. His attempts to cram his adult frame into his too-small wardrobe get a hilarious response from younger audience members. According to the show’s producers, Big is best appreciated by children 7 years old and up.

Director Jeff Frank and choreographer Jeff Whiting do a superb job of bringing out the best in this version of Big. Minimal sets quickly disappear to make room for the song-and-dance numbers, thrillingly executed by a cast of nearly 20 adult and child actors. At a performance seen on Saturday, Nicholas Gray played the younger Josh. Each First Stage show features two children’s casts.

The adult actors remain for all performances, and theater regulars will recognize many familiar faces among them. The talented Niffer Clarke displays her lovely voice in a solo about the bittersweet experience of watching your children grow up. While this gentle tune may appeal to parents more than kids, the obvious highlight for all ages comes elsewhere in the show. Just as the characters do in the film, a toy manufacturer and the older Josh hop on an oversized keyboard and play a duet. It’s a brilliantly executed showstopper. Jackson Evans is wonderful as the older Josh. Richard Ganoung impresses in dual roles as the toy manufacturer and the mechanical wizard, Zoltar, and adult-sized Beth Mulkerron is enough of a heartthrob to make Josh wonder whether he really wants to go back to being a kid. This creates conflicts with his best friend, Billy (played by rising star Austin Zdziarski).

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