Two and a half months of very public rewrites appear to have done the trick. The Broadway musical Big opened April 28 to a rave from New York Times critic Vincent Canby, throwing open the 1996 Tony Award race for Best Musical and Best Choreography once again.
"You don't have to worry about those horror stories you heard when the production was trying out in Detroit," Canby wrote. "Whatever the collaborators did in Detroit paid off."
Canby liked Susan Stroman's dances, Dan Jenkins' acting, Robin Wagner's sets, Gregory Meeh's special effects, and kids corps member Lizzy Mack. "Among other things Big is (at long last) an answer to Beauty and the Beast. . . . It worked as a movie. It works as a show," Canby wrote.
* In USA Today, David Patrick Stearns called the show "indeed big, flashy, fast and tuneful. . . . With so much gut-level stuff to engage adults and Susan Stroman's skateboard-driven MTV-style choreography to draw in kids, this is quite the ideal family musical. . . . Few recent musicals have been this lovable."
* Newsday's Linda Winer wrote "Big . . . is an amiable throwback -- a sweet enough, square enough, simply melodic and well-adjusted family fantasy informed by mall culture, hard-sell Broadway show-biz tradition and Hollywood." The Daily News and New York Post panned the show.
When Big opened April 28, at Broadway's Shubert Theatre, it was a very different show from the one that began its trek to Broadway Feb. 14 in Detroit.
After a month's layoff for rewriting and refocusing (and knee surgery for leading man Dan Jenkins), and three weeks of previews, the show now has nine numbers by songwriters David Shire and Richard Maltby Jr. that are completely new or substantially changed, producer Jim Freydberg told Playbill On-Line. Among other things, the title song was cut.
* The opening number, "Thirteen", was rewritten as "Can't Wait," with a completely new lyric.
* Dan Jenkins' first number, the title song, was cut and replaced with "This Isn't Me." The creative team refers to the song as "The Number Formerly Known as 'Big'."
* As a result, the Act II reprise of "Big" has been retitled "When You're Big."
* "Fun," the big Act I production number at FAO Schwartz -- the one with the dancing on the giant piano keyboard -- is still in the show, but with altered music and lyrics. Instead of simply being about the joy of fun, it's now about adults who want to be children again. The "Chopsticks" theme, which was used for the scene in the film, is now quoted twice during the song.
* Crista Moore's introductory song, "I'll Think About It Later," was cut and replaced with "Here We Go Again."
* The song in Josh's loft, "Isn't It Magic?," was cut and replaced with "Stars, Stars, Stars."
* Act I used to end with a musical scene titled "Your Wish Is Granted." The scene was developed into a full-blown finale number titled "Cross the Line."
* "Dishing at the Dance," the Act I song at Tavern on the Green restaurant, was cut and replaced with "Tavern Foxtrot."
* The eye popping Act II "Skateboard Romance" ballet was expanded.
Freydberg said all the changes were to a single purpose: to focus the story more clearly on its central character, Josh, a boy magically transported into the body of a grownup, who finds himself an executive at a toy company.
Changes continued throughout previews, Freydberg said, with a special emphasis on strengthening the end of Act II.