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  • Writer's pictureFrank Schierloh

REVIEW: Big the Musical (Bristol Riverside Theatre, Bristol PA)

A big success, if a little subpar.

Some great movies make terrible musicals, and some terrible movies make fantastic musicals. Big, the beloved 1988 film and Tom Hanks vehicle, was translated into musical form in 1996, yet the production proved divisive amongst critics at the time. Now, this musical is being brought to the stage at Bristol Riverside Theatre, and while the material being performed still struggles to be effective, the production and cast give it their all, making for an ultimately entertaining (if hollow) time at the theatre.


Big Problems

Big tells the story of Josh Baskin, who wishes upon a carnival Zoltar machine to be “big.” The next day he wakes up and is just that: a fully grown adult. Now a stranger in his own home, he must carve out a new life and find a job with the help of his friend Billy, and his general child-like sensibility. What follows is a story that often feels a little choppy in its telling. Time jumps rather abruptly, with little explanation given for the changes that occur within these time jumps. Characters just spout information to move the plot forward, but time is not spent in the development of those characters and their relation to the plot around them, occasionally making this relatively straightforward story difficult to follow. 

Oftentimes when the story of a musical isn’t hitting, the music can pull some of the weight. Unfortunately, while there are plenty of songs within the show, very few of them stick in the mind or hold any emotional gravitas to punctuate the moments they are trying to define. There are several songs that also have very strange melodic lines, primarily songs for the main character Josh. At times there were parts where a string of notes would sound strange in the performer’s voice, but it wasn’t that a performer was off-key, just that the notes didn’t mesh well with the music underscoring them. The score of this show has some kitschy 80’s pastiche, but is not memorable nor always pleasing to the ear. 

A scene from Bristol Riverside Theatre's production of Big the Musical.
Charles Osborne (Josh) and Keith Lee Grant (MacMillan) in Bristol Riverside Theater's production of Big the Musical. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Big Assets

While there are many things to bemoan about the script and score, Bristol’s production has assembled a cast and creative team who are firing on all cylinders. Director Ken Kaissar and choreographer Stephen Casey keep the pace of the show moving effectively. Kaissar is able to mine as much humor as he can from the book scenes, and utilizes the sprawling stage rather well. Casey’s choreography is a true highlight: energetic and fun, with the Act One closer “Cross the Line” being a particularly show-stopping dance sequence. They’ve brought together an extremely talented cast of adults and children who are filling every scene and choice with such a welcome exuberance.

Charles Osborne steps into the shoes of adult Josh with a fierceness and hilarity that are impressive to watch. He elevates the material with an earnestness that feels authentic; it is also rather difficult to look away from him during the large dance numbers, as his energy radiates throughout every movement. Erika Strasberg plays Susan, adult Josh’s coworker and love interest. She does the most with a role that is not fleshed out much, but is given several powerhouse songs, where her impressive vocals are on full display. Remi Tuckman as young Josh is another highlight, with a killer voice and the energy to also be the center of any dance number, matching Charles’ magnetic take on the older version of the character. 

A scene from Bristol Riverside Theatre's production of Big the Musical.
Erika Strasberg (Susan) and Charles Osborne (Josh) in Bristol Riverside Theatre's production of Big the Musical. Photo by Mark Garvin

One of the biggest issues with Big the Musical is that it never quite justifies why it should be a musical. It’s often said that a story needs to sing to be musicalized. Unfortunately, Big’s story does not sing, nor does it structurally add anything new by being adapted in this format, leaving the songs and various moments with little impact. The show has many problems with it, let alone the complicated and controversial dynamics of the central love story, but it’s best not to think too deeply about that, as the writers certainly didn’t. On the bright side, Bristol Riverside’s production is still a big success, giving audiences a fun night at the theatre filled with a talented cast, wonderful choreo, and enough 80’s references to make Stranger Things blush. 

A cartoon link to tickets and more info!

Big the Musical is on stage at

Bristol Riverside Theatre

(120 Radcliffe St. Bristol,PA)

from now until April 14th, 2024.

For more information visit

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