WEST VALLEY CITY They did the best they could with what they had to work with.
That was my thought after seeing Thursday night's production of "Big: The Musical" at Hale Centre Theatre. It's just not great material, proving that what makes a good movie doesn't always translate to the stage.
The show is filled with unnatural dialogue and forgettable songs. I was surprised to the the playbill credit the music to Stephen Flaherty ("Once on This Island," "Ragtime") a shame since his talents exceed anything heard Thursday night. Rather David Shire, best known for working on "Baby," another original musical with a brief Broadway run, did the music.
Based on the '80s movie starring Tom Hanks, the musical ran on Broadway for less than six months but, surprisingly, walked away with a few Tony nominations.
Hale, and director John J. Sweeney, worked hard to turn the show into something some of their additions worked, others did not.
The FAO Schwarz scene worked. The oversize piano was great; everyone was captivated. Bravo to David T. Glaittli (Mr. MacMillan) and J.C. Ernst (big Josh) for making the scene, which must be quite a workout for the men, lots of fun to watch. And bravo to Kacey Udy's set and Jennifer Stapley's numerous props.
The trampoline scene did not work. Though the movie scene is a classic, the set change leading into it was a major distraction, and the actual jumping was scary to watch, though the audience seemed to enjoy it.
The carnival scene mostly worked. The look and feel of the carnival was great, and the bumper cars were a fun addition. However, they should have been removed well before the dialogue started. None of us heard a word being said as the main character, at that time, was the noise and commotion of unnecessary set pieces.
The ball-throwing scene absolutely does not work. Josh and the boys are playing basketball, then start throwing the ball to one another. With Hale's arena stage, that puts the front row right in the line of fire. Yes, for the most part, it's under control but flying objects are hard to control. I would hate to see an errant ball hit an unsuspecting patron.
Tamara Clayton's costumes are to be commended. Filled with loads of peach and teal, off-the-shoulder sweatshirts, and stirrup pants, her costumes were '80s perfection and were enough to make me thrilled that fashion era is over. As much as Hale spends on its sets, I'd like to see them throw a little more cash to the wig department. Hale's intimate setting doesn't allow for cheap wigs they stood out like a sore thumb.
As mentioned before, Glaittli was a standout (double cast with Jim Dale). Though Ernst (doubled with Danny Tarasevich) sounded strained on some of his songs, he had a wonderful boyish charm that really worked in the demanding role. Eden Benson (doubled with Jocelyn Hansen) did a great job as the hard-nosed executive Susan Lawrence, and Spencer Hohl (doubled with Kooper Campbell) was absolutely darling as Josh's best friend. Under the musical direction of Kelly DeHaan, the ensemble, which includes some very talented teenagers, had a strong sound and mastered their tricky harmonies. Too bad there isn't more to the music because Hale's stage is loaded with great singers.
At times, the show felt more like a silly melodrama rather than a legitimate theater piece. Having workers actually say "grumble, grumble" as opposed to actual ad-libbed grumbling, just doesn't fit with the rest of the piece. Ditto with the over-the-top delivery of some of the 'villains' lines.The movie is much better than the musical, but they did the best they could with what they had to work with. If you go see "Big: The Musical," here's a tip: Get your seats on the top two rows. There are flying basketballs, flying bodies, Silly String, people on bikes and scooters, not to mention a spit-take with a chewed-up cracker that has to go somewhere ... best it not be you on the front row.