Children long to be grown before their time, yet adults wish to be young again is the truism at the heart of the beloved 1988 film “Big,” starring Tom Hanks, and its themes, characters and story are just as delightful 31 years later translated into the 1996 musical adaptation at The Barn Theatre where children get a peek at what it is to be grown and adults get to be children again — both on and off stage.
Director Patrick Hunter has created a gem with an exceptional cast and infinite artistic choices that make the heart of this show really sing. The book by John Weidman retains the best of the movie, written by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg, and puts it to a little bit funky and generally quite fun music by David Shire with lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr.
Set in 1995 New Jersey, “Big” tells the story of 12-year-old Josh Baskin whose wish to be big after an embarrassing moment of not being tall enough for a carnival ride in front of his unrequited love is granted, and he is transformed into a 30-year-old man overnight. Manchild Josh’s inner 12-year-old wins over the CEO of a toy company to land him a Vice President position with a corner office and tricked-out apartment, as well as a sexy, jaded lady, and he ultimately inspires everyone to remember who they truly are and enjoy life for best results.
It’s a quick-paced, family-friendly romantic comedy with genuinely touching moments thanks to stellar performances. Jamey Grisham is charming and utterly convincing as the manchild Josh who is at turns surprised, delighted and shocked by everything from what’s in his underpants to the taste of caviar and champagne to what a sleepover looks like at 30. This very well may be the best thing he's ever done onstage.
Grisham plays beautifully with the entire excellent ensemble, notably Robert Newman as a grumpy yet light-hearted Macmillian, his boss, with whom he dances “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks” on the enormous light-up floor keyboard; Samantha Rickard as his wonderfully sympathetic, long-suffering mom; Aiden Wall, a real-life 7th grader, who’s marvelous as Josh’s BFF and sidekick; Madison Merlanti as an hysterical Miss Watson, his ancient secretary.
And yet the relationship that truly drives the story is that with Melissa Cotton Hunter who is devastatingly good as Susan, the feminist workaholic maneater who’s sardonic about love. She hits the stage like a beautiful tornado with “My Secretary’s in Love,” a silly little bitch fest about wanting to fire her insipid assistant for her obsession with getting married to the exclusion of everything else, particularly work, and her performance only grows in force and brilliance from there — including her stunning voice which takes these songs the furthest they can possibly go. In lesser hands, this character could be flat if not offensive and the songs mildly amusing, but Hunter makes her so real, so vivacious, that the pinnacle moment of the show — a most surprisingly sweet seduction in which she and Grisham negotiate a sleepover beneath stars — truly tugs at the heartstrings.
The rest of the ensemble is a wonderful blend of local kids, Barn apprentices and long-standing professional resident company members who perform seamlessly together against a colorful, cartoonish set designed by Steven Lee Burright and Russ Skell and dressed in period costumes — from Z Cavaricci and all variety of acid washed jeans to Members Only jackets and blocky corporate suits.
They also look terrific doing Melissa Cotton Hunter’s super cute, snappy choreography with plenty of expansive arms and high kicks. And they sound wonderful — with an exceptional seven-piece orchestra led by Musical Director Brent J. Decker.
“Big” at The Barn is every bit as fun as it should be — and more. It’s funny, sweet, adorable and put together with such terrific talent and attention to detail, it drives home the most pleasurable truths of all: remember who you really are, embrace the inner child, be playful and enjoy.
Big the Musical