April 29, 2010

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They want to be big
Community Players of Concord take on a musical version of the Tom Hanks classic
By Adam Coughlin
arts@hippopress.com

With financial stress and growing responsibilities, it can be difficult for people to remember the child within. But Big, the Musical, which opens at the Concord City Auditorium on Friday, April 30, will try to remind the audience that acting like a child can have big rewards.

The musical, which made its Broadway debut in 1996, is based on the movie made famous by the performance of Tom Hanks as Josh Baskin, a 12-year-old boy who becomes a man overnight after being granted a wish by Zoltar, a mechanical carnival fortune teller. Josh struggles with the responsibilities of adulthood and seeks guidance from his best friend, Billy. Because he portrays such a carefree and childlike personality, Josh gets a job at a toy company where he falls in love with the company’s vice-president of marketing, Susan Lawrence.

Marc Willis, who won Best Supporting Actor in last year’s New Hampshire Theater Awards, will be playing the adult role of Josh.

“It’s a little bit of a dream for me,” Willis said. “I am a preschool teacher, so it is the perfect role because I spend most of my day acting like a kid.”

Willis said he watched the movie when it first came out but has stayed away from it since because he didn’t want his performance influenced by Hanks. Willis said he wanted to take the qualities that made the character so lovable — his innocence and playful spirit — and put his own spin on them.

Big, the Musical keeps with the Community Players of Concord’s recent track record of doing newer and edgier shows, according to Karen Braz, the musical’s director. In the past they have performed Titanic and City of Angels.

“One of the challenges for any theater is getting people into the seats and having a show that is appealing to the audience,” Braz said. “We think Big will do just that.”

Bob Sanders of the Players agrees with Braz’s assessment.

“This will definitely be our Biggest show in years,” Sanders wrote in an e-mail. “The music is upbeat and hard to sit still for. The dancing goes beyond what the Players have done in the past. Karen, who has worked with kids for 15 years, is a natural in getting professional performances out of kids.”

Half the cast is played by kids. But for Braz, who was also the director of the Children’s Theater Workshop, working with and inspiring young actors was easy compared to the large scope of the project. In recreating a movie, the musical doesn’t have some of the advantages — like flexibility with settings for different scenes.

“Big is really big,” Braz said. “A movie has a lot of latitude and can put the characters in any locale. This was a challenge for us, but the set looks wonderful and we even have the famous dancing piano scene.”

The dancing piano was constructed by Wayland Bunnell, co-producer of the show, and audience members can have a turn on it after the show. The dancing piano will be auctioned at the show’s final performance, on Sunday, May 2, at 2 p.m. Prior to that, shows will be at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 30, and Saturday, May 1.

“If anyone liked the movie then they will love the musical,” Braz said. “The musical keeps all of its charm. Everybody has wishes and wants them to come true.”

The movie is currently playing at Red River Theatres in Concord. See the movie first and get a $3 discount for the show. “I want families to come and see this show,” Willis said. “I want them to laugh and be silly and remember a time when they had fun.”

Big The Musical
Where: Concord City Auditorium, 2 Prince St. in Concord, 228-2793, www.concordcityauditorium.org
When: Friday, April 30, and Saturday, May 1, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 2, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $17 for adults, $15 for seniors and children under 18
More info: www.communityplayersofconcord.org
Big, the movie: Big will screen at Red River Theatres, 11 S. Main St. in Concord, 224-4600, www.redrivertheatres.org on Thursday, April 29, at 2:10 and 7 p.m.


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