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Big the Musical

by on 16 November 2017

Check In With Your Inner ‘Big’ Kid

Big the Musical

by David Shire and Richard Maltby Jnr

YAT at Hampton Hill Theatre until 18th November

Review by Georgia Renwick

However many years pass by, we never entirely forget what it is to be young. Big the Musical, which premiered in 1996 and which followed the 1988 film, is a nostalgic night out which will have you asking, when did you last check in with your inner ‘Big’ kid?
Josh is two weeks from thirteen, a normal kid decked out in 80’s backwards cap and jacket with a family, his dorky best friend Billy and a crush who doesn’t know he exists. I can relate – at thirteen, I wouldn’t leave the house without my ‘trademark’ over-knee stripy socks and though I went on my first date, we ate McDonalds and saw School of Rock, this was hardly the pinnacle of romance and I felt every bit as awkward.

What these were however, were formative experiences. But formative experiences are not what Josh is looking for, and weeks from his thirteenth birthday, rejected and humiliated by his crush at a carnival, Josh loses patience and wishes on a spooky old carnival machine to be “big”. It isn’t any old carnival machine, and the next morning he wakes up in pyjamas many, many sizes too small – his wish has been granted. Left to navigate the grown-up world alone while Billy searches for the solution, will Josh learn to love the Big world of jobs and cars and money, or will the love of his best friend and family win-out over the possibility of unlimited toys and blossoming romance?

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The ever-energetic YAT cast have an absolute ball with the show in the capable hands of director Sophie Hardie, who though new to YAT, has previously directed with TTC.

Seeing the adult parts played by actors who are still only young people themselves adds another whole generational dimension to what we are watching. Every one of them will be too young to have seen the 1980s first hand, so their families will be watching them re-live a generation they weren’t even alive to see … not that this matters of course, who doesn’t love legwarmers, mom-jeans, top-knots and neon?
Attention has been paid to lovingly recreating the era, from the costumes, to the posters on the boys’ walls to Pac-Man playing on a projection as the audience are seated. The set is painted like a 1980s music video in shades of neon pink and green; the full live band is enhanced with 80s-wave synthesises; and the stage is kitted out with flashing lights of green, purple and yellow and a projection centre stage which transports us to 80s America. The sound, lighting and visuals make a big impact on the senses.

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Each of the young performers puts their heart and soul into their parts, not a line feels wasted, as we have come to expect from YAT’s talented ensemble.
Meaghan Baxter packs a punch giving big voice and a sparky attitude to young Josh, whilst Matt Nicholas pulls out all the stops in his energetic and adorably adolescent rendition of ‘Big’ Josh Baskin. His child-like innocence reads as genuine, which is essential to the likability of this slightly odd protagonist, whilst his socially awkward mannerisms such as pulling at the hem of his suit and running his hands over his hair are so well observed it is at times hard to watch without cringing knowingly on his behalf. Ah, to be young!

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Nicholas shares quieter moments with Amy Hope as Josh’s colleague Susan Laurence, who he becomes close to. Hope’s voice is of a truly professional grade, and she tackles some challenging solos, particularly her opener Here We Go Again, with skill and bags of personality.
Whilst Hope’s nostalgic musings are touching, Katie Crawford’s solos as Josh’s mother Mrs Baskin are heart-wrenching. She summons tear-jerking real emotion to the stage as she sings Stop, Time to Josh’s uneaten birthday cake. I challenge any parent – or even child – not to be moved.
George Barden also stands out as an endearingly dorky Billy with a big heart and big voice, whilst Jojo Leppink brings sass and superb comic timing to everything she does as assistant Miss Watson, from holding a coffee pot to the less-than-exciting prospect of Billy’s algebra homework.
Overall, the choreography from Hardie is snappy, but avoids the trappings of being too polished: these are talented young people with the freedom to express their individual rhythms and not moving like oiled machinery. At times the stage often feels too small for the scale and ambition of some of the dance pieces! A few transitions do also feel a little awkwardly forced in places, as the show shifts from dialogue into dance and back again, but these do not interfere too much with the overall pace of the piece.
For a family-friendly show, it treads pretty close to the edge of what Josh can do as a grown-up… but on the whole, it is kept PG-13 friendly. The more grown-up jokes that do land seem to have gone over any younger heads.
In his few weeks Josh spends as a grown-up, he comes to the realisation that grown-ups, even ones that make toys for a living, are boring. They’ve forgotten how to dance, how to play games and lost sight of what makes ‘fun’, fun! In the context of the musical it only takes a little dancing and some 80s tunes to remind them to reconnect, perhaps that really is all we need?
“Fun isn’t programmed, it isn’t planned”, the cast sing, but though this is programmed and very well planned it is fun, so channel your inner ’Big’ kid, or bring your smaller ones, for a Big, fun evening out.

Georgia Renwick
November 2017

Photography by Sarah J Carter


From → Musicals, Reviews

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