Better than a School Concert: big: the Musical

big:  The Musical, book by John Weidman, music by David Shire, lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., Turtle Lane Playhouse, 12/9/11-12/30/11,

Reviewed by Craig Idlebrook

(Auburndale, MA) My parents were forced to sit through some terrible school concerts, including an animal-themed choral concert which featured lyrics wondering why there were so many anteaters, but no uncle-eaters.  They fixed their smiles and did their duty.

If you’re a parent of one of the many children in the youth ensemble in big: the Musical, this will seem like a treat in comparison.  You have a reason to feel pride, as your child has discharged his or her role admirably, dancing and singing his or her heart out.  The night will pass quickly for you.

If you have no genetic stake in this game, this play is difficult to watch.  It’s hard to gauge individual performances of this production because this play shouldn’t ever have seen the stage.

The source material for this musical is as good as it gets.  Big was a good-hearted comedy about a boy who accidentally gets his wish granted and grows up too soon; it showed for the first time that Tom Hanks was good for so much more than slapstick comedies, as he was able to show the confusion of the central character in an adult world.

But despite being written in the 90’s, big: the Musical takes the worst of eighties comedies and revives it to take all the innocence out of the movie’s premise.  In this script, pre-teen boys talk about “touchdowns” with girls, the female romantic love interest has zero motivation for sleeping her way up the corporate ladder and the script’s visions of corporate America and the Big City really are childlike, and that’s not a good thing.  While nominated for several Tony awards, the play was considered a financial disaster on Broadway.  It’s a poor script with too large of a cast; there was no reason for this theater troupe to stage it.

To make matters worse, it’s clear this production clearly hasn’t had a smooth ride to opening night.  In fact, opening night was delayed inexplicably, and the lead role was changed.  It’s unclear if the two events are related.  And the playhouse seems to be having difficulties, as well, as theatre personnel were visibly and verbally unhappy.

That leaves theatergoers to look for diamonds in the rough in this production, little glimmers of hope for future productions.  Mark Estano has good instincts and a sweet voice as Big Josh Baskin, the central character all grown up.  While his performance currently lacks some depth, it’d be nice to see him have the chance to perform with a full slate of rehearsals to grow into his character.  Young Sebastian Hoffman also has some strong moments as Josh’s best pre-teen friend, Billy Kopeci.  As for the poorer performances, it’s hard to pin it on the actors.

Let this be a wake-up call to the Turtle Lane Playhouse.  Something went wrong.  Please fix it.

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