HomeBensalem Times‘Big: The Musical,’ on stage at BRT, is full of nostalgia and...

‘Big: The Musical,’ on stage at BRT, is full of nostalgia and heart

The show pages homage to the 1988 Tom Hanks film while diving deeper with songs and dance

Charles Osborne (L) and Kalel Carrera. Photo by Mark Garvin

Upon stepping foot into the mainstage area of Bristol Riverside Theatre, guests are instantly transported to the electric era of the ‘80s. As they take in the stage, which is transformed into a larger-than-life, light-up Rubik’s Cube, dancey hits like “Jump” by Van Halen and “Take On Me” by A-ha play over the speakers. 

It’s the perfect setting to get theater-goers ready for Big: The Musical, which celebrated opening night on March 21 and runs through April 14. Based on the hit 1988 film starring Tom Hanks, the show follows Josh Baskin, a 12-year-old who wishes to become an adult. Much to his shock, his wish comes true, and he must navigate employment, relationships and all of the other trials that come with being a grownup. 

From the very first minute of Big: The Musical, it’s evident what kind of show it is: a completely feel-good experience that allows attendees to shut off the craziness of the outside and revel in high-energy dance numbers and earworm-inducing songs.

The cast of kids is introduced immediately with a choreography-heavy opening. Remi Tuckman and Kalel Carrera lead the charge as young Josh Baskin and his best friend Billy, respectively. Both effortlessly command the stage, Tuckman with his strong and heartfelt vocals, and Carrera with on-point comedic timing and sarcasm that’s reminiscent of Jared Rushton in the film. Carrera particularly has audiences cracking up during “It’s Time,” an enjoyable rap number that opens up the second act.

After striking out with his older crush at the carnival, Josh stumbles upon the mysterious Zoltar machine (a sight to behold on a live stage, with Dominick Sannelli inside), which encourages him to make a wish. Without hesitation, he requests to be “big.” 

Dominick Sannelli (L) and Remi Tuckman. Photo by Mark Garvin

On the set of the film, no tricks were needed to make the switch between child actor David Moscow and Hanks — a new scene simply begins the morning after the carnival, showing a now-adult Josh in his too-small bed. There isn’t such a luxury in theater, but BRT manages to flawlessly get Tuckman off stage and his adult counterpart Charles Osborne into the bunk bed without anyone noticing the change. 

Osborne, who appeared in The Mystery of Irma Vep at BRT in fall 2023, truly embodies the mannerisms of a tween who unexpectedly finds himself trapped in a grownup’s body. From his childlike wonder upon stepping into Macmillan Toys (yes, the iconic giant keyboard scene is included) to the way he fidgets in his chair during his first business meeting as an employed individual, Osborne excels in the role. 

Plus, Osborne boasts a strong camaraderie with Carrera, with their respective low and high tones blending seamlessly during “Big Boys.” It’s a fun song that sees Billy trying to get his now-adult friend into a better headspace by listing all the cool things that he previously couldn’t do as a kid.

Throughout Big: The Musical, audiences can understand what the characters are feeling, thinking and experiencing on a deeper level than what the movie shows. This is largely thanks to the score, which is a perfect blend of catchy tunes and vulnerable ballads. 

Erika Strasburg in the role of Susan Lawrence, Josh’s co-worker-turned-love-interest, is a prime example of how music can enhance a character’s story. In the film, Susan is portrayed as a career-focused woman who has lost sight of her inner child. Yet in the musical, it’s made clear that it’s still very much present. The song “Little Susan Lawrence” is a beautiful reflection on being a young girl and feeling love for the first time, showcasing a softer side to her. 

Erika Strasburg and Charles Osborne. Photo by Mark Garvin

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Big: The Musical’s massive ensemble numbers take certain familiar stories to a new level. In the second act, after spending the evening with Susan, Josh has fully embraced life as an adult, which, of course, means ingesting copious amounts of caffeine at the office. In the movie, Josh simply takes on a more serious nature and blows off Billy when his friend tries to help him locate a Zoltar machine. Yet on stage, his transformation is showcased in a nearly 8-minute-long routine to the song “Coffee Black.” 

It’s quite literally a marathon of a number, with Osborne clearly sweating in his suit by the end of it. Still, not a beat — or breath — is missed afterward.

Charles Osborne in “Coffee Black.” Photo by Mark Garvin

Ultimately, Big: The Musical is a must-see, especially for those who are fans of the Hanks flick. Sometimes, when films are brought to the stage, or vice versa, key elements are altered for a variety of reasons. However, that’s not the case with this. The musical expertly captures the nostalgia of the movie and follows the classic plotline extremely closely, all while delving deeper into the minds of Josh and friends through song and dance. 

It’s puzzling why Big: The Musical didn’t make a bigger splash when it premiered on Broadway in 1996. Maybe now, with fresh eyes and ears taking it in during local performances, it’ll become a “big” hit … no wishing on a Zoltar machine required. 

Visit brtstage.org or call 215-785-0100 for tickets and more information. Bristol Riverside Theatre is located at 120 Radcliffe St.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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