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Review: ACT's 'Big, The Musical'

Cast of "Big, The Musical," rehearse last week before opening weekend. The show ends this weekend with performances Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre for Performing Arts, Mitchell. Cast members shown are, back row: Brett Farnham, Melinda Hohbach, Toddy Boyd and Angella Buenzow. Sitting in the front are Tim Letcher and Rebecca Culhane. (Photo courtesy of Amber Dawn Portrait Plus, MItchell)

By Diana Goldammer

Freelance Columnist

If it's been a while since you believed in good old-fashioned fun and magic, take a few hours this weekend and see "Big, The Musical"

The talented folks in this production don't disappoint. Directed by Carol Grode-Hanks (with many credits to her name including "Beauty and the Beast") and assisted by Linda McEntee, this production lives up to the fine tradition of Area Community Theatre musicals past. The cast looked like they were having a great time, and I'm pretty sure the audience was, too.

"Big" follows the movie to an extent, but then it goes off on its own and provides some fresh material that Tom Hanks didn't get a shot at. Expect to see delightful surprises in this version.

You can also expect to hear some great voices sing some unfamiliar but catchy songs; you'll laugh out loud -- even if you normally don't, and you can expect to leave with a renewed appreciation for how briefly kids are kids.

The songs in this show will blow you away. While the music is difficult, the cast makes it look easy. Whether an ensemble, small group or solo, they sing and dance with tremendous energy and life.

The first two young men on stage are impressive. As seventh-graders in real life, they perform well beyond their years. Joe Morgan and Dillan Schmiedt do an awesome job of acting the parts of Josh and Billy with great sincerity in their voices. Their secret handshake will make you laugh in spite of yourself, and you'll remember what it was like to be 13.

From the movie, you'll remember Susan and Paul, the corporate climbers who work in the toy factory. In this production, Susan is played by Rebecca Culhane. There is no other way to describe Culhane's voice than to say she sings like a Disney princess. I kept waiting for her to miss a note, but it never happened. She was enchanting with each and every song.

Paul, played by choreographer Devin Carey, was so funny. That sounds simple, but his performance was far from it. From his costume to his mannerisms to his incredible wig, Carey made me (and a majority of the audience) laugh just by walking on stage. He nailed every line, threw in an impressive dance move, and was simply fun. He was fabulous.

The other two characters that made me laugh were Jack Mitchell as toy magnate MacMillian, and Cat Erickson as Miss Watson. Their costumes were perfect, and both had impeccable timing. The actions, the facial expressions, everything they did screamed "funny." They, too, had all of us chuckling in spite of ourselves.

Josh's mom, played by ACT newcomer Kathie Freeman, had some great songs, one with the other three parents wishing their boys would skip the growing up stage, and the other wishing she could stop time. Both were wonderful thanks to her gifted vocals.

Tim Letcher played Big Josh, the magically transformed little boy in a man's body.  He did a great job of rebuffing Susan's advances and it was fun to see him transform from a scared little boy into a man who didn't know if he really wanted to go back to being 13 again.

Toward the end of the show, Josh is introduced to Susan's friends, played by Brett Farnham, Todd Boyd, Angella Buenzow and Melinda Hohbach. Those four also did a great job with their song and the scene that went with it. The guys' outfits were a hoot, and the entire ensemble played their parts with contagious energy. They'll make you want to run out and schedule an evening with your own crazy friends.

This show has a large cast, and they all contributed beautifully to the song and dance numbers. The set was fun to watch as it was rolled in and around the stage. The music was well done by Jim Wagner and friends -- this was a live band, not a soundtrack.

One of the themes of the show was having fun, and so many things about this show were fun. You might not remember every song, but you'll remember that the talent was phenomenal and the laughs genuine. It's hard to ask for more.