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The Julia Morgan stage is a live piano for the summer as BIG THE MUSICAL charms Berkeley audiences through July 28th at the Berkeley Playhouse. BIG is based on the hit 1988 Penny Marshall movie of the same name. It starred Tom Hanks and earned two Oscar nominations, one for Hanks, and one for screenplay by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg. In 1996, the late director Mike Ockrent brought the story to Broadway with his then wife Susan Stroman as choreographer. Reviews were mixed and it closed after 193 performances. Since then, John Weidman’s book, Maltby, Jr.’s lyrics and Shire’s score have been overhauled. In this version, new songs have been added. The BPH craft team including the inventive Ryan Weible, Music Director Rachel Robinson and Choreographer Staci Arriaga have reworked some of the script to bring the heart of this story downstage.

Founding Artistic Director, Elizabeth McKoy, says BIG ends their 2018/19 season “we’re so excited to close our season with this charming and poignant musical comedy, it tugs at us with the heart and meaning while entertaining us with laughter and wacky hijinks.” Director Weible is very aware of the issues Broadway has with Movies brought to the musical stage “I am all too familiar with the challenges of taking a movie and putting it on stage. My hope is that this production of BIG reminds you of all the things we loved about the movie and it brings you a new different joy.”

Weible brings a feel good cast of 23 that includes a double cast of youth actors, under the direction of assistant director, Aubri No’eau Kahalekulu. The two impressive preteen casts are super and I wish I could have seen both groups. The “Opening Sequence” song features most of the cast, the parents and adults and the kids non stop amazing energy to open this two and a half hour musical.

Young Josh played by the vulnerable Jonah Horrowitz and Joe Krenn prove their energy as the preteen who wants more out of life. The opening song Josh sings about his crush Cynthia Benson and his overprotective mom. The premise of BIG is by no means original or unique, but the musical is filled with so much heart that the simplicity of the plot can easily be forgiven.

Twelve year old Baskin Jr is determined to grow up. He’s tired of living under his parent’s rule and frustrated by his inability to win the affection of his crush, Cynthia, played by the likeable Alya DeLa Paz and Ellie Langdon. Josh visits the local Jersey carnival with his best friend Billy played by the accomplished David Rukin and Mario Herrera. Josh discovers an arcade game called “Zoltar Speaks”, where he is granted a wish. His wish is to be Big, a grown-up. Instantly, the boy is thrust into adulthood and we meet the 30 year old Josh played by the terrific Adam Niemann. Mom sings “Say Good Morning to Mom” played by the vibrant Lexie Lazar, as she wakes up her 12 year old son, the boy now a man runs off to deal with an instant adulthood wish.

Before long older Josh is singing “I Want To Go Home” as he is lost in New York and his best bud does his best to help out. Billy is the youth actor who along with Niemann are both on stage for most of the show. Josh wanders into a toy store and learns he could have “The Time of Your Life” as the kids and store staff discover the lost man. The store is full of the best props and distractions for the older Josh to forget his old life.

Josh catches the eye of toy company boss, George MacMillan, played by the marvelous DC Scarpelli. The new man/boy is asked to asked to be a toy tester for the company. They both sing “Fun” and the old boss discovers he can still be a kid as the two play the classic “Heart and Soul” piano number on the life size keyboard. The set revolves on a turntable designed by the clever Mark Mendleson as the Toy store, offices and Josh’s home swing by. But the life size piano remains on stage, and even after the show stopping “heart and soul” number the piano and light up frame of the set is outstanding. Light designer John Di Giorigo had the daunting task of keeping that light up keyboard on cue and the surrounding light bars in the right mood.

The craft team for this production becomes a character in this story as the musical is prop heavy with every kind of toy and gadget a kid could love, crafted by a group effort and keen eye from the Cal Shakes props department. Props for BIG keep this musical busy especially as adult Josh has to design some high end toys to win his boss’ respect.

Josh meets Susan Lawrence played by the personable Alison Quin who sings “Stars” with Neimann who both show off their vibrant voices. The “sleep-over” with Susan that was a fun moment that made the movie such a hit is included in this stage version, along with some bouncy, memorable tunes that you’ll be humming on your way out to College Ave. Music director Rachel Robison has a keen pit of nine musicians that carry the score of pop tunes and some touching ballads including “Little Susan Lawrence” song by Quin. The company including the strong preteen cast all blow the top off the Julia Morgan Theatre and keep this show BIG.

Director Weible has found an engaging and talented cast and choreographer, Staci Arriaga, crafted some “How to Succeed in Business” wonderful dance numbers. The office staff is dynamite in the dance number “Welcome to MacMillian Toys” and the second act ender “Cross the Line”. Niemann and Quin spark excellent chemistry while young Horowitz, Rukin, Kernn and Herrera bring tender authenticity and humor in their tender portrayals of boyhood friendship.

The supporting cast includes the polished Marty Newton and Peter Budinger as the two dads, and later Toy Executives. The sharp Dan Saski plays the villain of sorts, and Matt Hammons, Javi Harnly, Kelty Morash, Briel Pomerantz, Tina Paulding, Dabielle Cheiken and local favorite Joesph Alvarado play the toy store workers and the company executives.

Stage Manager Shannon Reilly and her team Natalia Kazimi and Randall Belyea have a busy set to keep spinning and a frisky youth cast that moves on an off stage with ease. The costumes by Elizabeth Whitaker are colorful for the store workers and she kept young Josh in blue tones and the older version still young at heart in his stripped Tee’s. Josh does make an appearance at the company holiday party in a classic white tux you will remember from the Movie version. The sound by in-house vet, Lyle Barrere, is always booming with perfect volume and Josh Price and his team bring the audio magic to “Zoltar” who granted Josh's wish.

While the first act moves well, the charm slightly fizzles in the second act. Yet, there is much to love in this musical, it provides a wonderfully sweet look at the minor pains of childhood and the silly wishes of being Big. The BPH closes out its season with this charmer, but returns this fall with MAMA MIA. The new season also includes A CHRISTMAS STORY for the holidays and next summer look for DISNEY’S NEWSIES. But in the meantime, bring your extra quarters for “Zoltar” and make your summer wish to see BIG THE MUSICAL.

Berkeley Playhouse Presents:


Book by John Weidman

Music and Lyrics by David Shire

Based on the movie Big by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg

Directed by Ryan Weible

Music Director Rachel Robinson

Choreographer Staci Arriaga

Ex Director Kimberley Dooley

Founding Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy

Must Close July 28th



Runs Two hours 40 min with one intermission

Photos by Ben Krantz Studio.



Vmedia Arts Nico Jaochico - interviews Adam Nieman, DC Scarelli

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