There aren't really any huge problems with Big, the musical based on the hit Tom Hanks film about a 13-year-old boy whose wish to become a grown-up comes true. It has likable enough performances, a well-known, if slight, storyline and a few hummable songs that aren't too grating on the ears.
Conversely, there really isn't anything spectacular about this amusing, if ultimately pointless, musical, either.
Whatever possessed the original producers to sink their dollars into making this a Broadway musical is beyond comprehension. As a film, Big succeeded on its charming and simple coming-of-age story, but it was primarily powered by Tom Hanks' effortless, highly endearing performance. Adding music and dance numbers just seems like putting an extra cherry on the top of your strawberry shortcake.
As it stands in this format, Big still gives us the story of Josh (Joseph Medeiros), a kid who travels to the town carnival with his best friend Billy (Brett Tabisel), intent on winning the heart of an older woman - 14-year-old Cynthia Benson (Deamree Alexander). When Josh's dreams of a date with Cynthia are crushed, he turns to Zoltar, a wish-granting machine that gives him exactly what he wants - to be big.
When Josh (now played by Jim Newman) awakens in the body of a grown man the next day, he knows something is amiss. His mother thinks he's a burglar, his baby sister doesn't recognize him and Josh doesn't seem to fit into his old pajamas.
After changing into some of his father's clothes, Josh calls on the one person whom he knows will believe him - his best friend Billy. Convinced that the only way to change Josh back is to find the Zoltar machine and make another wish, they set off in search of it.
Meanwhile, grown-up Josh needs a roof over his head and some money in his pockets. After bumbling around in a toy store, he bumps into MacMillan (Ron Holgate), the head of a powerful toy company who needs a product that will sell. Inspired by Josh and his "childlike" charm, MacMillan hires him as vice-president for product evaluation, much to the chagrin of the other employees.
Big would like to instill in us the age-old adages of being careful what we wish for and finding the child that's still within all of us. That's all fine and, in some cases, even effective. But the approach taken in the book, lyrics and direction seem almost grounded in reality. They're at odds with the themes that are the spirit of the story. In turn, Big never really seems to get off the ground.
There are affecting interludes within the musical, including songs like "Big Boys," which sings the praises of being a grown-up; "Fun," in which MacMillan and Josh infectiously dance around on a giant keyboard; and "Let's Not Move Too Fast," a mock seduction number that highlights Jacquelyn Piros's dry comic timing as Susan, one of Josh's co-workers.
By and large, though, Big just doesn't seem to live up to its carefree premise. Scenic design by Zack Brown is especially underwhelming, relying on spareness and a bland quality that undermines the change Josh has just undergone. Sets like the carnival and Josh's apartment are particularly disappointing when they should be alive with color. Performances are likable enough, and Newman is winning as the grown-up Josh, never relying on caricature or imitations to illustrate his character's dilemma. Tabisel is also charmingly gruff as Billy, and Piro is mostly able in her exploration of Susan's pent-up fear of relationships.
Ultimately, though, Big the musical glosses over the parts which made the movie so charming and magnifies its weak points. This is especially evident in the second act, which limps along to its anti-climactic conclusion. Big is billowy entertainment for a while, but even soft 'n' fuzzy gets pretty flat if you don't keep it fluffed.
Big plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. Tickets are $39.50 - $45.50. For more information, call (713) 629-3700.