‘Big, The Musical -TYA’ at Adventure Theatre/MTC by Julia L. Exline

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Adventure Theatre/MTC presents Big, the Musical –TYA, based on the beloved 80’s film Big, starring Tom Hanks. Adapted for young audiences by Michael J. Bobbitt and Jeff Frank, with a book by John Weidman, music by David Shire, and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., Big, The Musical -TYA is a labor of love that mostly lives up to its high expectations. Michael J. Bobbitt serves as both director and choreographer for this production, with musical direction by Darius Smith.

The cast of ‘Big, the Musical – TYA.’ Photo by Bruce Douglas.

Set Designer Elizabeth McFadden surrounds the stage with a simple skyline made of steel skyscrapers – deceptively plain until they erupt with light, flashing bright colors and patterns throughout the show, especially during the musical numbers. A swirl of piano keys are painted across the floor and walls, and a large circular screen sits above it all, streaming recorded feed and images while the actors wheel large props on and offstage, swiftly changing the scenes between a bedroom, bus station, carnival, and other settings.

One of the best elements of the show has to be the lighting, designed by Andrew Griffin. Slats of light, much like piano keys, make for a creative backdrop when the skyscrapers are not in use. The effect is very creative! Sound Designer Chris Baine provides the needed sound effects to help round out the urban atmosphere, while Costume Designer Kendra Rai lends to that feel through accessories such as headphones, sneakers, and a heavily bearded homeless man screaming for change! Some characters require wackier costumes, like a glittery genie, and they stand out appropriately.

The show begins with a young Josh Baskin (a spirited Marley Mckay) caught in the frustrating throes of adolescence. The younger cast join the older “parents” in a song called “Can’t Wait” with the kids proclaiming, “Why can’t my parents leave me alone?” and the adults replying with, “Can’t wait till they’re older!”

Kate Fisher is great as Mrs. Baskin, Josh’s mom, who embarrasses her son a number of times without even realizing it. Josh’s angst reaches its breaking point when he is declared “too short” to ride a rollar coaster at a carnival, embarrassing him in front of his crush, Cynthia (Talia Brenner), and prompting him to wish to be “big” during a particularly enjoyable scene with a slightly creepy mechanical genie named Zoltar (Lawrence Munsey). When Josh wakes the next morning to find that he has aged a decade (Gregory Maheu, reviving the same role that launched Tom Hanks’ career), he finds himself caught in a whirlwind of “grown-up” problems that he may not be ready to take on.

Greg Maheu (Josh) and Brendan Debonis (Billy). Photo by Bruce Douglas.

While Josh waits for his best friend Billy (a scene-stealing Brendan DeBonis) to track down the Zoltar machine, Josh finds a job at the failing Macmillan toy company, and is able to breathe fresh life into the place thanks to him being able to be “in touch with his inner child.” Lawrence Munsey is endearing as Mr. Macmillan, who finds inspiration in Josh and quickly befriends him. I do wish they would have done more with the iconic “piano scene,” around which the set itself is designed and a moment that original fans of the movie would have been anxiously waiting for. Mere seconds are spent on the playful piano, and the scene is over before the audience really gets to enjoy it.

Through it all, Josh meets a colleague named Susan (Janine Sunday) and helps her find the fun side of life that she left behind in her youth. One of the best scenes show her reminiscing about her childhood in a lovely song called “Time,” where her younger self gracefully dances around her.

With such success at work, Josh finds himself less and less eager to return to his original state, and when the opportunity finally comes, he is hesitant. Can Josh handle his newfound responsibilities, or does adult life prove to be more than he bargained for?

Condensing a hit movie into a musical for young adults is a tall order—and it shows. There are times when the plot feels rushed, specifically at the end, when a handful of loose ends fix themselves within a ten-second window, making the ending fairly abrupt. However, the hard working and enthusiastic cast is endearing and the song-and-dance routines are fresh and enjoyable. Mixing young actors into an adult cast is an admirable feat, and Director Bobbitt’s direction elicits fine performances from his actors.

For a night of meaningful and zany songs all stemming from a universal issue – growing up – bring the whole family to experience Adventure Theatre/MTC’s Big, the Musical -TYA!

Running Time: One hour and twenty minutes, without an intermission.

Lawrence Munsey (Zoltar). Photo by Bruce Douglas.

Big, the Musical-TYA plays through October 28, 2012 at Adventure Theatre/MTC – 7300 MacArthur Blvd, in Glen Echo, MD (in Glen Echo Park). Purchase tickets by calling (301) 634-2270, or order them online.

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