It seems obvious.
The message of “big,” the musical that opened Friday evening in the Bristol Opera House, is clear: Don’t ask for what you want — you might get it.
That’s what happens to Josh Baskin, an almost 13-year-old, played in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production by Schmucker Middle School student Eddie Bell.
The 1996 musical, featuring a score by David Shire, lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr and a book by John Weidman, is based on the hit 1988 film starring Tom Hanks
The premise is one to which every youngster — and every parent — can relate.
Josh and his best buddy Billy Kopecki (Wyatt Katzenberger) are indulging in every kid’s favorite pastime, complaining — about chores, homework, parents, girls and life in general — and wishing to eliminate all problems by being “big,”
Josh especially is unable to talk to Cynthia Benson (Maddie Hershberger) the girl on whom he has a crush. Frustrated and humiliated, he finds himself facing a carnival machine, Zoltar Speaks. Instructed to “Make A Wish,” he blurts out “I wish I was big.”
When he wakes up the next morning to find that his wish has been granted, he begins a hazardous — and hilarious — journey into the adult world.
The suspension of disbelief is helpful for any play, but here it is almost a necessity. As “adult” Josh, Matthew Manley makes believing a no-brainer. Scared and awkward and shy, he gradually blooms in the world of “grown ups,” and his transformation to self-assured executive is delightful and connects with audience members of all ages.
Of course, what allows Josh to transition from teen to 30-something is — what else? — toys! Sharing a jumping-jack duet on a giant keyboard (the most famous scene from stage and film) with MacMillan (Tony Venable) the head of a floundering toy company, John finds himself in his dream job, testing toys!
As he become increasingly integrated into adulthood, the voice of pre-teen reason is supplied by Billy. Katzenberger provides a wonderfully no-nonsense best friend who keeps his eye on the prize — finding the new location for Zoltar Speaks and reversing the wish — and tries to provide reality checks for his aging buddy. He is the friend every kid (and adult) should have and delivers a humorously solid characterization.
The scenes between Billy and Josh (young and old) are highlights.
Chrissy Herrick is Susan Lawrence, company marketing vice president, who is attracted to Josh and introduces him to some adult games. She has the difficult task of making the attraction believable and does it well.
As Josh’s mom, Karen Payton has one of the show’s loveliest and most touching ballads, “Stop, Time,” which goes straight to the heart of every parent. It is just one in the excellent Maltby and Shire score which contains a goodly number of tunes-that-stick-in-your-head, not the least of which are “Fun!” in which the entire company goes wild in F.A.O. Schwartz; “Stars,” a melody for Josh and Susan’s “sleepover,” and “Cross The Line,” a salute to coming of age no matter what that age may be.
The entire company does well by Jackiejo Brewers’ choreography and soloists and ensemble numbers are solid under the direction of Sandy Hill.
Director John Shoup, who also designed the flexible set which features giant piano keys and appropriate digital backdrops by Jeffrey Barrick, delivers a fast-paced, as-slick-as-possible production, assisted by Leann Reas-Sullivan.
Special note to properties head Susan South for the excellent accumulation of toys!
The bottom line of “big,” which finds Josh finally ready to be a teen again, is the inclusion of something for everyone in its music and script.
It may not be smart to wish for what you want, but that will never stop anyone from asking.
BIG plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, SR120 in downtown Bristol. For information and reservations, call 848-4116