With opening night approaching, MLOC's director and leading performers take a moment to discuss their upcoming roles in the classic musical comedy, Big: The Musical
Many years ago, when I was a child, I spent a lot of time fantasising about the excitement that I would encounter in my future career as a fireman, lawyer, astronaut or in any other random occupation (honestly my job aspirations changed every second week). Yes it sounds a little cliché, but truly there were times when I wished I could just skip over 15 years of school work and assignments and wake up the next day in a successful and respected profession.
It was too bad that at the time I was unfamiliar with the critically acclaimed 1988 Tom Hanks comedy, Big, which involves a small 12-year old boy who is forced to deal with the consequences of growing up too fast, when he suddenly transforms into an adult over night after his wish to grow in height is misinterpreted by an eerie and mysterious carnival wishing machine with god-like powers called 'Zoltar Speaks'. This classic film has appeared on many “Top Movie” lists, and has been recognised by the American Film Institute as the 10th greatest fantasy and 42nd funniest movie ever made.
For theatre director Trish Carr the movie brings back many fond memories. “From the first day I saw the original film (now I’m showing my age) I fell in love with Tom Hanks' character, Josh Baskin,” she explains. “How can you forget the amazing light up piano that has stuck in my memory for so long? I simply love the comedy, innocent fun and great feel the show leaves you with”.
With an impressive range of theatre credits that include director, costumier, stage manager and performer, Trish is working to recreate the fun atmosphere from this comedy-fantasy film as she directs a musical theatre adaptation for MLOC Productions, which will run from the 14th-22nd of June at Phoenix Theatre, Elwood.
Big: The Musical was originally adapted from the film for Broadway in 1996 by award winning composer David Shire, lyricist Richard Matlby Jr. and librettist John Weidman. It won a number of Drama Desk Awards (including outstanding musical, book, lyrics and music) as well as being nominated for a series of Tony Awards.
Trish says that she hasn't taken any inspiration from previous shows, focusing instead on making MLOC's unique version of this show “simply fun”, “bright” and “energetic” with lots of surprises for all. (“I even have some surprises to still reveal to the cast”, she jokes). “We should all remember that inner child within us and smile,” she explains. “There always seems to be doom and gloom everywhere we look so I hope we can bring a sense of fun back to our audiences and send them home with a smile on their faces”. To achieve this task, Trish says that she has utilized the skills of an “amazingly talented” and diverse cast of 39 performers ranging from 10 years old to 80.
After performing in countless theatrical productions over the last 13 years, 26-year old Christian Cavallo portrays Big's protagonist Josh Baskin, a 12-year old boy whose Kafkaesque transformation into an adult, while maintaining his childish personality, forces him to adapt to the unfamiliar surroundings of the corporate world. Christian says that Josh Baskin has been on his checklist of desired rolls for a while now and that he has loved the experience of finally being able portray this character.
“It’s been a good feeling working up to performance time,” he says. “It requires a lot of energy and you have to just surrender yourself to the silly situations you find yourself in and not worry about looking like an idiot”. Trying to achieve the physicality of a 12-year has also been an enjoyable experience for Christian, though he admits that making the situation look believable has been quite challenging. “Children are a little less contained than adults,” he explains. “I probably exaggerate it at times for comic effect, but for the most part, there’s been an ensemble of kids for me to watch for behaviours and actions”. Christian says that his portrayal of Josh emphasizes him as a “typical kid” and a “genuine person” who “hasn't been tainted by the adult world” and is considered by other characters as a “breath of fresh air”. However finding himself in this fish-out-of water scenario results in Josh not knowing what he should do and say when around other adults
“This leads to trouble – but it’s all good fun for the audience”, laughs Christian.
Josh's situation becomes even more complicated after receiving a job at McMillian Toy Company, where he hits it off with determined young executive, Susan Lawrence, portrayed by 29-year old performer Carly Hobbs. Carly says that she was first introduced to Big: The Musical when she picked up the CD of Big’s catchy soundtrack around 12 years ago. “I loved it so much I recorded it onto a tape and it became my favourite driving companion! It’s a show that isn’t done very often so the opportunity seemed too good to miss out on!”
Her skill as a performer has led to Carly working as a lead singer on cruise ships throughout the world and touring through the UK and Europe with an Abba Tribute Band. In Melbourne, she has starred in about 30 amateur shows, which include 'Mabel' in Mac and Mabel (Cloc), 'Millie' in Thorough Modern Millie (Nova), 'Mimi' in Rent (Players) and 'Martha' in The Secret Garden (PLOS).
Carly describes her character Susan as “direct” and “firm” with the ability to “get what she wants” in a male dominated office, but who is also easily viewed as a “man-eater” due to her driven desire to be loved. “She gets herself caught up with the men in the office which in a real life situation would cause nothing but trouble,” says Carly. “I’ve been aware of trying to show her vulnerability as she’s a really genuine and nice person”. This vulnerability and sensitivity is revealed through Susan's interactions with Josh. “Susan is intrigued by Josh,” says Carly. “There’s something childlike and fun about him that Susan has lost in herself. He reminds her of her first love and reignites her youthfulness”. According to Christian, Susan is from a completely different world – one that Josh fails to comprehend. “Josh doesn’t realise that Susan begins to have feelings for him, and sees her as an ‘adult best friend’ more than a ‘girlfriend’, which stems from his innocence,” he explains. “They fall into a relationship, but I don’t know that he realises what’s happening in an adult context”.
Describing rehearsals as being “full of bright, colourful ensemble numbers” with “a friendly” and “welcoming” cast and “incredibly energetic and talented kids”, Carly says that the greatest challenge when rehearsing is keeping a straight face when acting alongside Christian.“Behaving like a 12/13year old kid comes pretty naturally to him and we laugh our way through every rehearsal – especially the parts when we’re meant to be serious,” says Carly. “I think it’s also worth mentioning that I get to play with a lot of cool toys in the show,” adds Christian. “I get action figures, blow up boxing gloves and blaster guns, but the most fun toy is the silly string!”
And while Josh and Susan's awkward romance unfolds, Josh's friend Billy is tasked with tracking down Zoltar, the wishing machine responsible for transforming him into an adult. While both leads admit that they would be tempted to use such a machine (Josh would wish for the power to fly like Superman and become invisible; while Carly opted for an evergreen money tree and a jar of never ending fat and sugar free nutella), director Trish notes that Big: The Musical has a greater moral: “the grass is not always greener on the other side”. “Josh discovers that while he has heaps of fun being an adult, growing up normally is an important part of life but in the process he also reminds the adults of the importance of having fun – a lesson we could all possibly learn”, she says.
With only a week to opening night, Trish says that audiences will be amazed at the “fabulous sets”, the fun situations Josh finds himself in and the giant light up piano that cast members dance upon. “The production is very bright and so much fun, I can definitely guarantee the audience will laugh non-stop at the situations Josh gets himself into but at the same time will cry at some of the tear jerker moments”.
Big: The Musical will run from the 14th to 22nd of June at Phoenix Theatre, Elwood Secondary College, Glenhuntly Rd, Elwood.
To book your tickets go to http://www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=42231&embed=42231 or phone Margot on Margot on 9808 9775.
Director: Trish Carr
Musical Director: Geoff Earle
Choreographer: Keir Jasper
Stage Manager: Chris Ryan
Set & Backdrop Design: Trish Carr
Lighting Design & Operation: Michael Zagarn & Branden Butler
Audio Assistant: Liam Griffin
Specialist Costumes: Trudy Scott
Wardrobe & Costume Coordination: Margot Sephton & Trish Carr
Set Construction: Garry Bertrand and Team
Contributed by Paul Campobasso