The Washington Post

‘Big, the Musical’ at Adventure Theatre MTC

Greg Maheu, right, brings a touching naiveté to the role of big Josh, with Brendan DeBonis as his pal Billy. (Bruce Douglas/Courtesy of Adventure Theatre MTC)

Nowadays, if a 12-year-old kid disappears from his room one morning, his mom has the police and the FBI on the case in a flash.

Not so in the safe, neon-colored world of “Big, the Musical,” bubbling away at Adventure Theatre MTC through Oct. 28. Josh Baskin (Marley McKay) just phones his mom (Kate Fisher) and tells her he needs to be away for a while, but he’ll be back, and she accepts it.

Mrs. Baskin’s little boy made an errant wish the night before to Zoltar, a genie in an arcade game. He only asked to be tall enough to meet the height requirement for a carnival ride. Now he’s a man, but with a 12-year-old’s heart and mind.

There’s charm and poignancy amid the hijinks in this pared-down rendering, based on the 1996 Broadway show and the reimagined 1997 touring version staged by none other than Signature Theatre’s Eric Schaeffer. The original source is the 1988 hit film starring Tom Hanks.

Adventure Theatre MTC’s Michael J. Bobbitt and Jeff Frank, of First Stage children’s theater in Milwaukee, have adapted “Big, the Musical” into a 70-minute theater-for-young-audiences piece. The result is highly diverting for kids, but not without a few glitches.

The abbreviated script has abrupt transitions that make the narrative hard to follow at times. And a romantic subplot between big Josh (Greg Maheu) and Susan (Janine Sunday), the unknowing executive at the toy company where Josh works during his accidental adulthood, feels awkward and promotes fidgets.

But Bobbitt’s staging has something fun perpetually around the corner, so kids aren’t likely to quibble. McKay’s young Josh is shy unto comical paralysis in front of his school crush, Cynthia (Talia Brenner), and Brendan DeBonis’s Billy is a perfect wiseacre as Josh’s best friend. DeBonis proves equally comfortable kidding around with Maheu’s big Josh. And Maheu brings a touching naiveté, a sweet voice and a gangly physicality to a tricky, emotionally complex role.

When big Josh wins over toy magnate Mr. MacMillan (Lawrence Munsey) by offering critiques of toys at MacMillan’s store, the scene plays to perfection. But then, in the musical number “Fun,” Josh and MacMillan dance a quick soft-shoe to “Chopsticks” on a painted keyboard. This is a nod to that priceless moment originated in the movie, but it is so brief and low-tech, it feels like an afterthought here.

The protean cast gets to frolic in front of Elizabeth McFadden’s handsome backdrop of geometrical flats decorated with LED lights and echoing a Manhattan skyline.

Kendra Rai’s costumes capture both the thrown-together look of kids and comically dull Manhattan corporate couture. The show’s tunes by David Shire (music) and Richard Maltby Jr. (lyrics) are less than hum-worthy, but they’re lively, they propel the story and they’re more than ably sung over recorded orchestrations.

Inevitably, big Josh grows a little cocky in his new life. When he disses Billy, his friend chides, “I’m your best friend. What’s more important than that?” Bereft and lonely once more, Josh mends his friendship, and the story tumbles to an abrupt end as the boys track down the Zoltar machine and are able to reverse the magic so Josh can go home to Mom.

Things happen really fast in “Big, the Musical,” and that’s fine. But an audience barely has time to ponder the sweetness of a story in which a child visits adulthood ahead of schedule, yet still gets his childhood back to savor in real time.

Horwitz is a freelance writer.

Big, the Musical

Adapted for theater for young audiences by Jeff Frank and Michael J. Bobbitt, based on the 1996 Broadway show, book by John Weidman, music by David Shire, lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr., in turn based on the 1988 film “Big.” Directed and choreographed by Michael J. Bobbitt. Lighting design, Andrew Griffin; music director, Darius Smith; props, Andrea “Dre” Moore. With Calvin McCullough, Maya Brettell and Emma Sophie Moore. About 70 minutes. Through Oct. 28 in Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. Recommended for ages 5 and older. Call 301-634-2270 or visit



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
It's in the details: Five ways to enhance your kitchen makeover
Play Videos
Drawing as an act of defiance
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Border collies: A 'mouse trap' for geese on the National Mall
Play Videos
Bao: The signature dish of San Francisco
This man's job is binge-watching for Netflix
What you need to know about Planned Parenthood
Play Videos
How to save and spend money at college
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
Europe's migrant crisis, explained

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.