Can you recall what it’s like to have spontaneous, uncalculated fun? If you’ve forgotten, then the perfect reminder awaits at the York theater, where a modest, but winning production of Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire’s Big, the Musical is underway. The show kicks off the theatre company’s 20th year of their “Musicals in Mufti” series. According to the program, a “mufti” is a “show performed in street clothes; without the trappings of a full production.” This serves the work well, primarily because it forces the viewer to focus more on the story and content
rather than the splashy spectacle of a full-fledged staging.
Big, the Musical is based on the hit 1988 Penny Marshall movie of the same. It starred Tom Hanks and earned two oscar nominations-one for Hanks, and one for screenplay by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg. In 1996, the late director Mike Ockrent brought the story to Broadway with his then wife Susan Stroman as choreographer. Reviews were mixed and it closed after 193 performances. Since then, John Weidman’s book, Maltby, Jr.’s lyrics and Shire’s score have been overhauled. In this version, eight brand new songs have been added.
The premise of Big is by no means wholly original or unique, but the musical is filled with so much heart that the simplicity of the plot can easily be forgiven. 12 year old Josh Baskin (Hayden Wall) is determined to grow up. He’s tired of living under his parent’s rule and frustrated by his inability to win the affection of his crush, Cynthia Benson (Elainey Bass). Upon visiting the local New Jersey carnival with his best friend Billy (Jeremy Todd Shinder) , Josh encounters an arcade game called “Zoltar Speaks”, where he is granted one wish. His wish is to be a grown-up. Instantly, the adolescent is thrust into adulthood (played by John Tartaglia), where he effortlessly catches the eye of toy company honcho George MacMillan (Richard Maltby, Jr.) and becomes an executive at the company. Here, he meets Susan Lawrence (Kerry Butler) and is forced to navigate through the difficulty of a romantic adult relationship.
Remember the big piano dance mat scene at FAO Schwarz? It’s in here. How about the scene when Josh eats caviar for the first time? Or the “sleep-over” with Susan? That’s in here too. All of the fun moments that made the movie such a hit are included in this stage version, along with some bouncy, memorable tunes that you’ll be humming on your way to the exit. It doesn’t hurt that director Michael Unger has found an engaging and thoroughly talented cast to pull it off. Tartaglia and Butler spark excellent chemistry while Wall and Shinder bring tender authenticity and humor in their astute portrayals of childhood friendship. Due to a last minute change, the actor Walter Charles had to bow out of the production. However, it is a pure joy to see the show’s lyricist, Richard Maltby. Jr. assume the role of George MacMillan.
At a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes, the show does tend to have some minor moments of sluggishness. While the first act floats with buoyancy and charm, the effervescence slightly fizzles in the second act. Still, there is much to love in this show as it provides a wonderfully sweet look at the minor pains of childhood and the silly pretentions of adulthood. You’d better hurry, though. Much like our cherished youth, the show vanishes after Oct. 19th.
Big, the Musical runs Oct. 15-19th at York Theatre Company. For tickets and more information call 212-935-8520 or visit yorktheatre.org