A DUAL CRITICS ALHAMBRA THEATRE & DINING REVIEW
Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre & Dining opened the third show of the 2019 season with the North Florida debut of BIG, THE MUSICAL, which runs through May 5, 2019. The theater is located at 12000 Beach Boulevard. Visit alhambrajax.com or call 904-641-1212 for reservations.
Many of our readers may recall the 1988 Penny Marshall movie of the same name which starred a young Tom Hanks. Both Hanks and the screenplay received Oscar nominations.
A musical followed in 1996, which opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theater, received five Tony nominations, and closed after 193 performances. A revamped 1997 touring version was well received by critics and audiences.
And as usual, Chef DeJuan Roy’s pre-show menu was great; entrée choices included beef, chicken, fish, and vegetarian dishes.
Big tells the story of 12-year-old Josh, portrayed with winning charm by Ari Walz, in his Alhambra debut. Josh is upset and disappointed when he goes to a carnival and isn’t allowed to get on a ride because he’s too short – and he’s rejected by a girl he’s interested in because she has an older – and taller – boyfriend.
Things change when he puts a quarter in the slot of the midway’s classic automated fortune teller – Zoltar Speaks – and makes a wish to be big – a grown-up. He awakens at home with his wish granted; he is now tall, handsome, and 19 years old. Big Josh is brilliantly played by Rodney Holmes in his fourth show at the Alhambra, where he earned his Equity card. He has captured the uncertainties of a young adult with a childlike heart making his way in new situations and he sings superbly.
The other case members were equally marvelous in their roles. Eleven-year-old Jon Ashton Reid portrays Josh’s best friend Billy, who is his helpful energetic companion.
Josh’s mom, Mrs. Baskin, is played by Katie Nettle who captures the challenges of raising children in a fine performance.
Steven Flaa appears as the big boss of the MacMillan Toy Company, who offers Josh a job as a consultant in his business, along with a loft apartment. Flaa is a veteran of the Alhambra going back to 1987; a fine singer and wonderful dancer. One of the highlights of this show is his performance with Holmes dancing across jumbo piano keys; this scene also delighted viewers of the original film.
Heather Kopp, who was last seen in the Alhambra’s Godspell, portrays Susan, a MacMillan VP, who has recently broken up with Paul (Markus Mann), who is also a high-level employee. She becomes Josh’s girlfriend – well, sort of; she doesn’t, after all, understand Josh is really just a kid and a number of jokes are based on the differences in their interests. Ms. Kopp has a marvelous singing voice which she shares with the audience several times.
There are a number of talented children in the large ensemble; they include Trey Murphy, Jake Nuttal, Dakota Burton, Claire Smith and Autumn Henry. Adult ensemble members include Rachel Anton, Alexia Adcock-Stanford, Joshua McKinney, Sam Brown, Thomas Nightingale, Kyle Ivey, Kalea Leverette, Carley Levy, and Victoria Elizabeth.
Choreographer Parker Slaybaugh’s well-conceived numbers were a visual delight. Among our favorites were “Cross the Line” and “Coffee, Black.”
The staging was impressive and while there’s a lesson here – “be careful what you wish for …” all the conflicts are of course resolved at the end. This show is a modern twist on a fairy tale, and incredible fun for adults and kids both big and small. And of note: a Zoltar Speaks installation in the lobby is accessible for those with unfulfilled wishes.