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Theatre Review (LA): Big by Weidman, Shire and Maltby at the El Centro Theatre

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The musical Big is based on the movie of the same name that starred Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins. The movie was a huge hit and earned an Academy Award for Hanks.

The musical had always shown promise and was nominated for five Tonys, but it originally lasted less than six months despite a worthy pedigree, with book by John Weidman, music by David Shire, and lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. After some major rewrites the musical found an audience on the road. This year the West Coast Ensemble, under the inspired leadership of Richard Israel, opened the show on May 8th, and because of sell-out crowds the run has been extended until July 26th.

The story concerns Jason, a geeky twelve-year-old who makes a wish at a carnival wish machine with the result that he wakes up the next day a boy in a man’s body. He gets a job with a toy manufacturer and has an affair with an ambitious young lady in the office. Eventually the novelty wears off and Jason comes to realize that one should grow up at one’s own pace, in one’s own time.

I quite enjoyed the show despite the fact that many of the performers were not really musical theatre actors and some were kids. The whimsy and charm of the piece carried the day. My enjoyment was increased by the fact that the two leads, Will Collyer as Jason and Darrin Revitz as Susan, were very good in their scenes together. Collyer has a natural charm and a lovely voice. Revitz is a strong singer and quite fetching.

The set design by Christine Lakin is quite serviceable for a musical in a 99-seat theatre, providing levels and various acting areas as well as versatile pieces of furniture. Daniel Thomas provides the accompaniment as well as the strong musical direction, Sharon McGunigle the costumes. But mostly it is to Richard Israel’s credit that the musical is such a success. This show follows a smashing production Israel directed at Musical Theatre Guild of a little-known gem, Violet. He is a director to watch.

Big plays at the El Centro Theatre until July 26th.

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