After a successful UK run in Plymouth and Dublin in 2016, fans of Big the Musical have been patiently waiting for the show to make its West End debut. Fast forward to 2019, and the wait is finally over!
Playing a limited run at the Dominion Theatre, Big the Musical follows the plot of the 1988 Tom Hanks movie and sees 12-year-old Josh Baskin making a wish ‘to be big’ on a Zoltar machine at the local fair after being too short to ride a rollercoaster and getting embarrassed in front of his crush Cynthia Benson.
When Josh wakes up, he is still a 12-year-old however, he is now trapped in the body of an adult. After running away from home with the help of his best friend Billy, Josh must learn to navigate adult life in New York City, including getting a job at Macmillan Toy Company. Whilst impressing the big boss Macmillan, he also catches the eye of one the workers, Susan Lawrence. What ensues is a chaotic tale of growing up and finding yourself, with lessons to be learnt by Josh and everyone he meets.
Jay McGuiness reprises his role as adult Josh Baskin after previously playing the iconic character in the 2016 run of the show. Whilst he impressed us three years ago, with us declaring that “he was made for the role”, it seems that Jay has managed to improve on said perfection, further embodying the boyish charm required for the role.
His performance skills have strengthened immensely, no doubt helped by his West End stint in Rip It Up the 60s earlier this year. However, whilst his dancing skills remain incomparable, for us it’s his voice and acting skills which really stood out this time around. From the second he appeared on stage in his “shrunken” pyjamas, Jay put on a confident performance, commanding the stage during each scene and nailing a wide range of emotions. Furthermore, Jay’s golden vocals were a real highlight, allowing him to stand strong alongside the more seasoned West End veterans.
This time around, Jay is joined by Kimberely Walsh, who gave a fantastic performance as Susan Lawrence. Nailing the portrayal of a high flying executive who’s pretty much forgotten what it feels like to be a child, Kimberley delivered her songs with passion and emotion. We would have liked to have seen a little more hysteria during ‘My Secretary’s in Love’ however, on the whole she captured the role well. Kimberley and Jay also had a great chemistry and bounced off each other during their scenes together.
Wendi Peters delivered a stunning performance as Josh’s mum, Mrs Baskin. Whilst she may not be on stage for that long during the show, she certainly stole the show during her scenes with performances of ‘Say Good Morning To Mom’ and ‘Stop Time’. We’ll always associate Wendi with the gobby character of Cilla Battersby-Brown from Coronation Street, however, her portrayal of Mrs Baskin couldn’t have been more different. She blew us away with her vocals and you couldn’t help but feel her pain when Josh was missing.
Matthew Kelly played the role of toyshop owner George Macmillan and added his own spark to proceedings. Whilst he seemed a little unsteady during the iconic (yet in fairness, physically demanding) piano scene, overall he gave a strong performance and gave us plenty of chuckles as he threw caution to the wind by hiring Josh.
Theo Wilkinson also stood out as Billy, and had a great cameraderie with Felix Warren’s young Josh and Jay McGuiness’ big Josh. He delivered a strong performance throughout and we particular enjoyed his enthusiastic performance of ‘It’s Time’. The principal members of cast were supported by a phenomenal ensemble made up of children and adults. It was clear to see how much the cast enjoyed being up on the stage, with everyone putting on a polished performance and delivering energetic choreography.
Whilst we’re already familiar with the story thanks to the original movie, it is enhanced by a sensational score which just added to our enjoyment. The musical is packed with songs, such as ‘Coffee Black’, ‘It’s Time’, ‘Stars’, and the beyond infectious ‘Cross The Line’, which will leave a lasting impact on you after you’ve left the theatre. It’s certainly a good sign upon leaving that you hear some of your fellow audience members humming and singing the songs on their way out!
Another big highlight of the production is the incredible staging. Armed with a huge rotating stage, we were quickly transported from Josh’s house to places including the funfair, New York, and Macmillan’s toy shop. The effects used were quite simply spellbinding, and there were a number of key scenes which were jawdroppingly good, causing us to wonder how on earth they managed such slick transitions. We won’t spoil them for you by going into too much detail – you’ll just have to see the show for yourself!
Our only real criticism would be the length of the musical. At just over two hours and thirty minutes (without including the interval), you certainly get good value for your money however, for a family show it could perhaps benefit from being a little shorter. With a solid hour and a half of performance time before the interval, it was clear to see some of the children around us getting a little restless. Having said that, personally we felt that every part of the story told was necessary so we’d find it difficult to actually cut any ‘filler’ out.
Big the Musical is without doubt a real joy to watch. The Dominion Theatre is a huge theatre to fill however, Big has succeeded in delivering a gargantuan show full of heart, fantastic songs, and an incredible cast. We also love that it encourages us to relive our youth, whilst also reminding the younger ones in the audience to enjoy their childhood and not grow up too fast.
Big the Musical plays at the Dominion Theatre until November 2.