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Big - The Musical

Also see Sharon's review of The Fantasticks

Big
Sterling Beaumon and Will Collyer
It's a very little Big. West Coast Ensemble's production of the musical, based on the Tom Hanks movie, is small in nearly every way. It's got a tiny box set (so small that some of the choreography rubs up against the walls); its "Zoltar machine" (which grants young Josh's wish to be big) exists only on a TV screen; its compact cast includes two young people who manage to be part of both the "kid" and "office worker" ensembles (by means of being office "interns"); its band is one guy (playing something technologically impressive); and its much-anticipated floor-keyboard (for the FAO Schwarz scene) is just painted on the stage floor—jumped on when necessary, and ignored for the rest of the show.

Stripped down to its barest essentials, this production of Big - The Musical connects with the sense of fun that is so integral to the show. Just as complex toys fail to stimulate a child's imagination as much as simpler toys do, it is easy to see how Big could get bogged down in props, lights and production numbers, when all you really need is its good story and good songs. There's fun aplenty in this production—be it the delightfully low-tech way the floor-keyboard is handled, the real enthusiasm with which the kids and adults dance together in "Cross The Line," or the amusing second act number when (older) Josh's girlfriend has him over to meet her friends, who proceed to pass judgment on him.

But there's also the downside to paring down Big—it magnifies the flaws in the show itself. For instance, there's something very odd about the show's resolution. We see Josh's mom once in the second act, still desperate over her missing son, and singing the sweet ballad, "Stop Time." But she's never seen or heard from again; certainly she deserves a little closure. And while the show clearly takes place in a fantasy world (where not only do carnival machines grant wishes and strangers get hired to corporate VP positions on a whim, but 13-year-old boys have never been kissed), the show is at its best when it acknowledges these moments with winks or even asides to the audience. When it doesn't, and asks to be taken seriously, sometimes, it can be hard to do so.

West Coast Ensemble's cast is a bit more uneven than one might have hoped. Will Collyer is delightful as older Josh, transitioning from the comic panic of a little boy in a man's body to a kid's version of a cool, collected player. Sterling Beaumon (who appears to be the "go to" kid for small LA theatre of late) does his best work to date as Billy, Josh's streetwise best friend. Indeed, the entire kid ensemble shines—and the adult ensemble keeps up as well. The trouble comes in the second act for the women in Josh's life, Lisa Picotte as his mom and Darrin Revitz as his girlfriend. Both are strong vocally in the first act, but act two requires some higher notes, which seem uncomfortably out of their ranges. The otherwise lovely "Stop Time" disappoints, and the final number ("Stars Reprise") doesn't make you misty-eyed as it should, because the notes just aren't there for the singers.

This little Big can still bring big fun; it just fails to bring much more.

Big - The Musical runs through June 28, 2009 at the El Centro Theatre in Hollywood.  For tickets and information see www.westcoastensemble.org.

West Coast Ensemble at the El Centro Theatre under the Artistic Direction of Les Hanson & Richard Israel presents Big - The Musical. Book by John Weidman; Music by David Shire; Lyrics by Richard Maltby; Directed by Richard Israel. Musical Direction by Daniel Thomas; Choreography by Christine Lakin; Set Design by Stephen Gifford; Lighting Design by Lisa D. Katz; Costume Design by Sharon McGunigle; Sound Design by Cricket Myers; Assistant Directed by Suzanne Doss; Stage Managed by Amy E. Stoddard; Produced for WCE by Ben Campbell; Marketing and Publicity by David Elzer/DEMAND PR; Graphics Design & Layout by Buddha-Cowboy Productions.

Cast:
Young Josh Baskin - LJ Benet
Mrs. Baskin - Lisa Picotte
Mr. Baskin/Drag Queen/Salesperson/Barrett/Tom - Jake Wesley Stewart
Mrs. Kopecki/Panhandler/Salesperson/Miss Watson/Diane - Johanna Kent
Billy Kopecki - Sterling Beaumon
Mr. Kopecki/Arcade Guy/Salesperson/Birnbaum/Nick - Frank Romeo
Cynthia/Goth Girl/Kid/Intern - Alex Scolari
Derek/Gang Dude/Kid/Intern - Coby Getzug
Brandon/Kid - Joseph Castanon
Tiffany/Kid - Ashley Marie Arnold
Debbie/Kid - Kailey Swanson
Mom/Homeless Lady/Salesperson/Receptionist/Abigail - Sara J. Stuckey
Mom/Bible Lady/Susan Lawrence - Darrin Revitz
Dad/Stoner Musician/Paul Seymour - Stephen Vendette
Ticket Taker/MacMillan - Larry Lederman
Older Josh - Will Collyer


Photo: Ty Donaldson


- Sharon Perlmutter






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