"Big: The Musical," based on the 1988 Tom Hanks film about a boy whose wish to turn into an adult magically comes true overnight, arrived on Broadway in 1996 with a lot of fanfare and a big budget. And it flopped -- big time.
It was the season of "Rent" and "Bring in 'da noise/Bring in 'da Funk," and "Big" looked decidedly unhip compared to them. Its excellent score was too rich for most kids, and most adults were turned off by what looked like silly kiddie fare. The inevitable comparisons to the iconic film also worked against it.
But "Big" was extensively retooled for a far more successful national tour. That version is finally receiving its New York premiere in a low-key, concert-style production as part of the York Musical's Musicals in Mufti series, which is essentially a scrappy, no frills version of the Encores! series at City Center.
Here, there's no space or budget for FAO Schwarz's feet-tapping "Big Piano," let alone much other scenery. The elaborate choreography is gone. The band consists of just a piano player and bassist.
But with such a "less is more" approach, this production reveals "Big" to be, despite some lingering book issues, a pretty wonderful and enjoyable musical.
John Tartaglia, the original male lead of "Avenue Q," was an inspired casting choice for Josh, bringing a kiddie-friendly sense of animation and a tender-hearted side. Kerry Butler, best known for her comic abilities, is perfectly sweet as the adult female disarmed by Josh's kindness and innocence.
In an unexpected twist, Richard Maltby Jr., the show's lyricist, has stepped into the role of toy exec MacMillan. Even if he's a bit tentative onstage, it adds to the fun and spontaneity of this rare glimpse into a musical that deserved a bigger chance at success.
"Big: the Musical" plays through Sun at the York Theatre Company at St. Peter's. 54th St. and Lexington Ave., yorktheatre.org.