The York Theater Company launches its 2014 Fall “Musicals in Mufti” Series with revised version of BIG, the Maltby & Shire Musical from the 1996 Broadway season.
By: Linda Amiel Burns
Big, the musical was one of the most anticipated shows of the 1996 season as it was directed by Michael Ockrent and choreographed by Susan Stroman (who married during the rehearsals). It was based on the 1988 film directed by Penny Marshall and starring Tom Hanks that brought him the first of his five Oscar nominations. The show, with book by John Weldman, lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. and music by David Shire, was lavishly designed at a cost of 10 million dollars and was one of the most expensive Broadway musicals up to that time. Big ran for 196 performances on Broadway but the following year, the authors revised the book and score for a first-class national tour that went to 35 cities in 40 weeks.
The York Theatre Company opened its Fall “Musicals In Mufti” Series with this revised version of Big that has eight new Maltby & Shire songs never recorded and rarely heard. Big was brilliantly directed by Michael Unger and the music direction by Eric Svejcar. John Tartaglia (Avenue Q) was terrific as Josh Baskin, the young boy who makes a wish at a Carnival to be grown up and wakes up the next morning in the body of a 30-year old man who learns how complicated adulthood can be. You always believed that he really was a 13 year old, especially when he sings “This Isn’t Me” after waking up to discover his new adult body. The song was restored as it had been eliminated after the Broadway run. Kerry Butler was excellent playing the toy company executive who falls in love with this charming yet unsophisticated young man after being involved with complicated and self centered men. She sang the lovely, “Dancing All The Time” thinking back on the joyful times of her childhood. The 11 year old Hayden Wall was exceptional as the young Josh as was Jeremy Todd Shinder as his smart talking best friend Billy who tries to help get back to his childhood.
The surprise of the evening was the substitution for the part of George MacMillan, the president of the toy company. The day before opening, the actor scheduled to play the part had to drop out and Richard Maltby, Jr. jumped in and played the part to perfection. Even if you write the lyrics, it doesn’t always mean that you can sing them, but the duet with Josh called “Fun” was as wonderful as it was clever. Also, the iconic scene in FAO Schwarz, when the duo play “Chopsticks” on the floor piano, was simply done and very effective. It was a treat for the cast and the audience to see the man who is usually behind the scenes as a writer and director play the part as if it was written for him. At the after party, David Shire remarked that Richard usually likes to “give notes and not take them.” In the program, Mr. Maltby is quoted as saying that “while the musical is called Big, the emotions involved are personal and intimate and human.” This point was evident when Janet Metz as Josh’s worried mother, sings the moving number “Stop, Time” wishing, as all parents do, that precious times can come to a standstill and savored.
This remarkable series began in the spring of 1994 to re-examine under appreciated musical theater gems in a small and intimate setting. These presentations are staged readings with script in hand and not fully realized productions, but without all the theatrical trappings, you get to see the essence of the show. The brave performers only get less than a week to rehearse before show time and create magic in that short time. There used to be only 5 performances in a weekend, but now this acclaimed series has expanded to a new two-week performance schedule for the next three musicals with 10 performances. Big will be playing Wednesday, Oct 15 through Sunday Oct. 19th.
Visit: wwwyortheatre.org for the performance schedule.
After Big, the next 3 shows will be A Time For Singing, Saturday Night, and My Favorite Year.