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NDM Productions’ ‘Big: The Musical’ is not a perfect show, but quite entertaining

Show runs again Dec. 5, 10-12 at West Elementary

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Never a Dull Moment Productions opened its latest performance, “Big: The Musical” in the West Elementary auditorium here in Great Falls earlier this week.

Given that Thursday was opening night, there were some bumps along the way, but they recovered well and when things were good, they were really good. But indeed, there were several issues that made it come off as an uneven performance at times.

With that, let’s get into what I liked and what I did not like so much. The show features music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. It was directed locally by NDM co-founder Ali Jo Sheets, with Zachary Dennis providing choreography.

The Good

The main leads all gave strong performances. Dennis played an inspired interpretation of Josh Baskin as an adult, as did Lindsay Jolliff as Susan Lawrence. Jeff Scolley, always a consummate professional, killed it in his role as the fun-loving, playful George MacMillan. Aiden Breau also played a remarkable Paul Seymour and Dana Ridgeway Kirkmeyer’s Miss Watson shined in every scene she was in. Finally, Talan Shine as Young Josh Baskin knocked it out of the park, as well.

The blocking, or positioning, for the most part, was solid. Aside from a few forgivable moments in which the actors movements were a little unnatural, the whole production felt tightly directed and choreographed.

Having seen most of the leads before, I knew going in that they’d likely give strong singing performances, and in that regard they did not disappoint. Nearly everyone’s singing sounded on-key and matched the tempo of the canned music, for the most part. As is normal with opening night, there were a few missed cues, but the actors were able to recover nicely and most people probably wouldn’t have even noticed the small flubs.

I was impressed with some of the costumes, while others left me underwhelmed. All of Baskin’s costume choices were thoughtful and added fun elements to his character, complete with his signature red shoes that are painted on NDM Productions’ downtown storefront.

The small details of his costume changes also helped enhance the performance. When Josh first starts his job at the toy company, he’s wearing a tie that clearly doesn’t fit, representing his own status as an adult. Later on, Josh gets a new, better-fitting tie that signifies his perceived acceptance of his new adult life.

And while I wouldn’t say this show was Joliff’s best work, she still gave a dynamic, must-see performance. Her character growth came across naturally, which, given the nature of her relationship to Josh, could have been disastrous if not handled with care. Her singing sounded quite great, too, particularly in the second act.

Some of her costumes worked really well, but then others fell flat. Her work outfit, her formal party outfit and her casual costume each helped enhance the performance well.

 Ali Jo Sheets stands with young actor Sophie Harris Lanning at a recent rehearsal. COURTESY PHOTO/AUTUMN JUNE PHOTOGRAPHY
Ali Jo Sheets stands with young actor Sophie Harris Lanning at a recent rehearsal. COURTESY PHOTO/AUTUMN JUNE PHOTOGRAPHY

My issue came in the scene where she’s “sleeping over” at Josh’s apartment. It’s there where she gives probably her best singing performance, however she’s dressed in a t-shirt and un-matching pajamas so it took a little away from the song’s magnitude. However, I’m sure the script calls for such an outfit so there’s really nothing that Joliff or the directors did, so my real issue was with the scripting decision.

And while I expected to be impressed with Joliff and Dennis, there were a few performers who pleasantly surprised me with their strong skills.

At no point during the show would I have ever imagined that Breau was just a 13-year-old acting as an adult. Every scene he was in he showcased his mastery for delivering lines as an adult in a sophisticated, professional manner. The scene in which he’s bullying Josh, eventually sitting on top of him and assaulting him, in particular was done very well.

Dana Kirkmeyer Ridgeway Kirkmeyer, too, was a real joy to see. Her attitude, personality and singing voice were spot on and while she was only in the show for a few scenes, she maximized her time on stage wonderfully.

Additionally, I’ve got to give a special shout out to Sophia Harris-Lanning, who stole all the attention from Dennis in their dance routine together toward the end of the first act. She was clearly the smallest performer on the stage among all of the performers , but her adorableness cannot be accurately described with just words alone.

Gino Davenport rocked it as Billy Kopecki, as well. His singing will only improve the more he stays involved with theater, which isn’t to say it’s bad because he did a fantastic job with the songs he participated in, for the most part. For such a big part in the story, he gave Koepcki a charming personality from start to finish.

The bad

As I stated at the top, to me this show had some fundamental problems that made it uneven at best. Part of that problem came from the background music.

The constant piano music, while lively, was just a tad too loud. Plus, the fact that it was the only instrument that played behind the singers made it a little nerve wracking at times. When the piano would stop every now and then, I’d feel like I could exhale and enjoy the performers just a little bit more.

If you look at the official materials for the play you see that the score was written for other instruments such as clarinets, oboes, saxophones, drums, guitars and so on. While the venue doesn’t provide a place to have live music, perhaps they could have found a way to find canned music that featured a more diverse range of instruments.

Secondly, many of the songs don’t quite have that catchy flavor to them that songs in well-known musicals such as “Chicago” or “A Wonderful Life.” Rodgers and Hammerstein are regarded as some of the greatest playwrights ever for good reason, and one of those reasons is that they created songs that both fit the play and were some of the most catchy tunes ever made.

The catchiest song in “Big: The Musical” had to be “Coffee Black,” which I did enjoy very much. However, not everyone may have enjoyed it as much as I did, as I spoke to at least one person afteward who said he did not care for it.

Because it was opening night, there were several missed cues, and at least one singer who missed the beat with her part. Those are problems that typically get ironed out the second night of the show or later, usually. There also were a few small lighting issues, a few times it’d be difficult to see the actor singing as he or she would be partly in darkness until the lighting technician would adjust.

If we’re going to get specific, the actor who played Zoltar couldn’t sing too well, but, his part was so small that it wasn’t something that was too distracting. Same goes with Susan’s friends. They were hit or miss with their singing, although again they did capture the spirit of the parts to get the point across.

Looking at the overall big picture, pun not intended, this production felt like there could have been a couple fewer songs and nothing would have really been harmed in the process.

Zoltar speaks“Big” the movie was an enchanting story without any music. While you can’t show a musical without any songs, the playwrights could have dropped several of the less-memorable ones, such as Susan’s first song about her secretary falling in love, or the one where Josh and Susan visit Susan’s friends. However, as I mentioned above, I did enjoy the scene even if the singing was a little pitchy at times.

I also understand the importance of Susan’s first song as it sets the tone for her character development. She starts as a stuffy office worker and in the end comes around more in touch with her inner child, but, I felt like that song made her come across a tad bit too stuffy than she needed to be, plus, the melody itself really did not go anywhere too exciting.

Moving on, I had a slight issue watching when Josh and Billy first hit the streets of New York. While a nice variance in the blocking, they stand in the back of the room for what feels like a really long time.

I had trouble trying to twist in my seat to see them. I guess while it’s a good technique, maybe they could have tried getting back up to the front a bit sooner.

There also was a technical issue with the foot keyboard for the iconic scene in where Baskin and MacMillan dance atop it. The lights did not work, although they did get it fixed by the end of the show.

I understand how being able to afford a giant, workable keyboard may be expecting too much, but, part of me felt a little bummed by the fact that they were only matching the background sound.

Also, getting back to the other point about diversifying that music, if they were unable to use a real over-sized keyboard, at least if there was other instruments in the mix before the piano scene, it wouldn’t have felt as stale because the listeners would not have been hearing only a piano in the previous scenes and the ones thereafter.

Finally, while I received a comp ticket to write this review, $20 per person, or $15 with the donation of a toy for Toys For Tots, is a little on the high end for local entertainment. If you wanted to take your family to see the show, depending on how many kids you have, you’d be spending at least $60 to $80 when you could go to a movie for half that.

Now, live theater has a real human element that you cannot put a price on, but, for the average theater patron, that can make the decision for them if they’re on the fence about which plays to go see, especially given that White Christmas plays next weekend as well, although it’s $20 per adult, also.

Conclusion

Overall, the production did enough things well for me to recommend it.

When the cast gels together in the second act, it feels like you’re watching a big-time production company in somewhere like New York City. Unfortunately not all of the show is quite at that level, but, the major problems aren’t caused by the actors, the director or choreographer.

I’m still not quite sold on whether “Big” works as musical, considering the tunes don’t quite have that memorable quality to them, although as I said previously, maybe it would have worked better just with a couple of fewer of them.

All and all, though, NDM Productions seamlessly blended the children with the adults and it felt like everyone on set was having a blast.

The show’s not without it’s faults, but, I for one am thankful that NDM Productions has dedicated the time, effort and money into making this show become a reality. Their efforts continue to make the arts in Great Falls thrive. Go support them and check it out for yourself.

The show runs again today at 7:30 p.m. and again on Dec. 10-11 at West Elementary, also at 7:30 p.m.. There’s also a 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 12. For more info on NDM Productions, check out their Facebook page.

Editor's Rating

8.4
NDM Productions opened "Big: The Musical" on Thursday night. There were a few lingering problems that took a little away from the show, but overall it was a fun piece of live theater.
0 User ratings
8.4

PROS

All of the actors did a super job at playing their parts. The lead singers voices were on point and aside from a few small missed cues, which is bound to happen on opening night, the performers did the best they could with the given material.

CONS

There isn't quite a signature song that gets stuck in your head, also the background music was a bit too loud and because it was only a sole piano, it did get a little stale. It would have been nice to hear a few different instruments. There also felt like there were a few too many songs. The price is a little steep, as well, although competitive with other plays around town.
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