BIG shoes to fill... but this musical's a real whopper: PATRICK MARMION reviews the new West End stage version of hit Tom Hanks movie
Dominion Theatre, London
The musical based on Big – the 1988 film that helped cement Tom Hanks’s Hollywood career – hit the West End last night. And yes, it’s pretty much a whopper.
It stars Strictly winner Jay McGuiness from boy band Wanted as the 12-year-old Josh, who wakes up in the body of a man. Opposite him we have the slightly more formidable Girls Aloud veteran Kimberley Walsh as Josh’s grown-up girlfriend Susan.
Matthew Kelly’s in there, too; adding a bit of his leathery old twinkle as the boss of the toy manufacturer where Josh gets a job.
But the biggest thing about this show is the set.
Big The Musical performed at the Dominion Theatre. Pictured, Jay McGuiness as Josh and Kimberley Walsh as Susan
With more revolving parts than the solar system, Simon Higlett’s design is a huge cinematic experience, with the inside of two suburban houses separated by projections of the New Jersey landscape, before shifting to Manhattan skyline and a panoramic vision of the Milky Way.
Biggest and best is, perhaps, the fun fair where Josh makes his fateful wish to be a grown up. But between the film projections, sound system and lighting set-ups there are so many high-tech special effects that there’s a constant threat of crashing – as happened on Monday night, when the show ground to a halt before restarting ten minutes later.
The movie won Hanks an Oscar-nomination for his mixture of innocence, vulnerability and zest for life. These are big shoes to fill, but McGuiness has a very respectable pop at it under his boyish mop of quivering curls. There’s excitement at his pecs and abs right from the off when he falls out of bed in tiny super-hero pyjamas like a benign version of the Incredible Hulk. His best moment, however, is when he finds himself frightened and alone on New York’s mean streets, timidly singing This Isn’t Me.
In all honesty, though, his performance could be bigger. Morgan Young’s steady direction could allow him to unleash more childish physical comedy – such as the glorious scene in the film where Hanks shoots foam spray from his nose. Too much mess for stage hands? We wouldn’t mind.
And there are moments, such as when Susan asks him how he manages to be so dead-pan cute, that could be given more time to land. Give us time to sigh.
Jay McGuiness as Josh and Matthew Kelly as George in Big The Musical. It is being performed at the Dominion Theatre in London
The film adaptation of Big with Robert Loggia as MacMillan and Tom Hanks as Josh Baskin
But McGuiness is thoroughly congenial and pulls off the trickiest set piece with aplomb when he dances on the giant piano keyboard at the Fifth Avenue toy store, alongside the surprisingly agile sexagenarian (soon to be septuagenarian) Kelly.
With his white hair, yellow waistcoat and pink face Kelly has a nice blend of old-fashioned status and cuddly warmth.
As Josh’s mother, Corrie’s Wendi Peters delivers a pleasantly sentimental song about growing older, but is a tad (dare I say it) grandma-ish.
Walsh’s Susan, on the other hand, is more strident; taking charge of the romance with Josh, who thinks she’s angling for a sleepover in his lower bunk bed. She has swagger and style, as well as tenderness...and horror when she realises she’s dating a 12-year-old.
Until then, she’s like a high maintenance Eva Longoria meets musical belter Olivia Newton-John.
I do wish Young’s production paraded more of the big shoulders and big hairdos of the Eighties. A few more Chris Waddle mullets would not have gone amiss. Nostalgia is, after all, embedded in the structure of the story.
My main quibble, though, is with David Shire’s music. There are moments of Eighties pastiche when Josh goes a bit Rick Astley; and there’s a hint of Toni Basil’s Hey Mickey for Josh’s birthday. Otherwise there are no stand-alone show stoppers.
But in the end it’s the story that rules. After 31 years it can still tug the heartstrings, with childhood longings to be an adult, and adult longings to be a child.