Big begins in a suburb in New Jersey. 12-year-old Josh Baskin is walking home trying to avoid confrontation with his 13-year-old neighbor Cynthia Benson. He can't understand why he's so self-conscious whenever Cynthia is around, but Josh's other friends in the neighborhood and their parents understand what's happening: Josh and all of his friends are starting to reach adolescence and each are expressing their self-consciousness in this turbulent period. (Can't Wait)
Josh later finds out from his best friend, Billy Kopecki, that he heard rumors that Cynthia thinks Josh is cute. Josh begins to get nervous about what to say to Cynthia. Billy reassures him everything will be fine when they go to the carnival that night (Talk to Her).
That night at the carnival is a disaster. Not only does Josh embarrass himself in front of Cynthia when he talks to her but he also finds out her boyfriend is a 16-year-old who drives. To make matters worse, Josh is humiliated by everyone at the roller coaster when the barker tells him he is too short to go on the ride. Before Billy can stop him, Josh speeds off on his skateboard to a deserted warehouse on the fairgrounds. He notices an arcade game called "Zoltar Speaks" that tells him to make a wish. Angered by the evening's events, Josh sputters out, "I wish I were big". The machine says, "Your wish is granted" just as Josh skates towards home.
The next morning, Josh realizes something is different about himself (This Isn't Me). The machine granted his wish. He has transformed into a thirty-year-old man. Confused and scared because he is still mentally twelve, Josh tries to get help from his mother, who throws him out of the house, thinking he's an intruder. The only one who understands what happened to Josh is Billy, who immediately recognizes Josh through their secret handshake.
Not having any plan, Billy takes Josh on the bus to New York City after school. Billy wants to stay with Josh but he has to catch the next bus home before his parents worry about him. He tells Josh to meet him at FAO Schwartz the next afternoon. As Billy leaves, Josh grows frightened about his surroundings and has trouble falling asleep in the terminal (I Want to Go Home).
The next day, Josh is walking around FAO Schwartz watching the kids play excitedly with the toys (The Time of Your Life). Billy has still not arrived and Josh begins to pass the time by talking to an elderly man curiously looking at the toys. The man turns out to be Mr. Macmillan, CEO of Macmillan Toys, and he is trying to find out why the other toy companies are doing better than him. Josh tries to politely tell him that his friends don't play with Macmillan Toys because they don't "allow the kids to have fun". Instead of being offended, Macmillan is more curious to hear about Josh's ideas for good toys are. Josh and the other kids nearby explain to Macmillan what having fun is (Fun). Before he knows it, Macmillan is having that kind of fun, dancing on a giant-size piano with Josh and the other kids.
Macmillan hires him on the spot to work as his assistant. At the office, the company's vice-presidents try to present their holiday toy lineup for Macmillan and Josh. Josh rejects all of their ideas, and Macmillan shouts at them to come up with better ideas for the holiday toy lineup. Angered that all of their hard work went to waste, the vice presidents don't welcome Josh too cordially (Josh's Welcome).
Paul, one of the vice-presidents, is also very upset by the fact that his relationship with Susan, another vice-president, has ended abruptly. Susan is all alone at her desk, realizing his new feelings for Josh. His innocence makes him charming and irresistible to her, something contrary to her harried life (Here We Go Again).
With the huge salary that Macmillan is offering him, Josh is able to buy a nice penthouse apartment and furnishes it with...toys! Miss Watson, Macmillan's secretary, has just finished helping Billy and Josh get the apartment ready. Billy tells Josh that he can send an order to an arcade company to locate "Zoltar Speaks". He also reminds Josh about their tickets to the basketball game the next day. As she and Billy leave, Josh is welcomed by another housewarming guest--Susan. Susan tries to get to know Josh better over take-out Chinese food, and before she knows it, Josh has asked to spend the night. Susan is all set for a night of passion when Josh loans her a pair of his pajamas and offers her to sleep in the top bunk while he has the bottom bunk. He thinks of it as "inviting a friend to sleep over at his house", not truly understanding what Susan was thinking. He notices she wants to do something else, so he offers suggestions of what to do before they went to sleep. (Do You Want to Play Games?). Suddenly Josh decides to turn off the lights and show her his glow-in-the-dark universe on the ceiling. Susan is very impressed by Josh's sense of imagination and beauty (Stars, Stars, Stars). Before they fall asleep, Josh gives her a decoder ring as a gift.Instead of being disappointed at the night's events, Susan believes she has finally found a man who appreciates her for herself.
The next night at the Macmillan Toy Company Ball, Josh arrives late and stands out from the rest of the guests in a white tuxedo and high-top sneakers. Susan kisses him and tells him what a wonderful night she had. Paul overhears Susan and immediately gets into a fight with Josh. Josh is helped off the ground by Susan and asks her, "Why does he have to be so mean to me?" Later, Macmillan asks the guests what can they do about the failing holiday toy lineup. He explains that they lack communication with their kids, who are also present at the party. Communication with those kids was going to be the key to a successful toy lineup. He asks Josh how would he approach the line that separates the kids from the adults. Josh starts to dance and with the help of the kids, breaks the barrier between the adults and the kids (Cross the Line). Susan comes up to Josh and kisses him for helping save the company.Josh is in awe; no girl has ever kissed him like that, not even his mom. He begins to like the idea of staying forever as an adult. Suddenly, Billy crashes the party, telling Josh they're going to be late for the basketball game. Josh leaves Billy alone in the crowd while he goes off with Susan to end Act 1.
Act Two opens in Josh's old neighborhood. Simultaneously, Billy and some other boys as well as a whole group of girls decide to hang out at the mall.Billy starts to rap about his anger with Josh standing him up (It's Time). Meanwhile, we realize the kids in Josh's neighborhood are growing up. They rap about finally being teenagers and starts to come together in a mixed clump instead of two separate groups of boys and girls.
Billy leaves the group behind to wander through the mall when he come across a very upset Mrs. Baskin. He knows that today is Josh's birthday, and she is upset he is not around to celebrate. Wiping away a few tears, she finally comes to terms that the baby she held in her arms not too long ago is now a teenager (Stop, Time). Billy cheers he up, telling her that he'll be home in a few weeks.
Meanwhile, Josh is having a nightmare where he is attending his 13th birthday party at the mall as an adult and that Zoltar pops out of one of the presents his friends buy him (The Nightmare).
Josh immediately wakes up on Susan's couch. He had dozed off for a few seconds while working with Susan on an idea for the holiday toy lineup into the wee hours of the morning. He asks Susan what she would have wanted as a child. Susan thinks back to a childhood she had long forgotten in order to enter a busy, harried adult world (Dancing All the Time). To thank Josh for everything he had done for her, she begins to kiss him again and lay very close to him on the couch. The 13-year-old Josh inside his head does not know what to make of this and expresses his nervousness as Susan holds him tighter (I Want to Know). Finally, Josh gives in and spends the rest of the night at Susan's apartment.
Josh comes to work the next morning, feeling like a new man. Josh starts giving executive orders to the entire company. (Coffee, Black) He has the prototype for the new toy, and there isn't much time before the holidays to make the toy. Macmillan is so impressed by Josh's authority that he gives Josh a new corner office as part of a promotion. Josh seems to have it all together-why would he want to go back to being a teenager again?
Later, Billy comes into Josh's office with some good news. The arcade company has located a "Zoltar Speaks" in an abandoned warehouse in Jersey City. Josh curtly cuts off Billy, having business to attend to on the phone. Finally fed up with Josh's brush-offs, Billy cuts the phone on Josh, screams at him, and storms out of the office. Josh starts to run after Billy but realizes he has to get ready for a dinner date with Susan and her closest friends.
That evening, Susan introduces Josh to her two best friends, Abigail and Diane, and their husbands, Tom and Nick. Abigail and Diane fall under the charms of Josh's innocence and sincerity (The Real Thing), believing he is the perfect man for Susan. However, Tom and Nick are not at all amused by Josh when they sit down to talk with him. Josh begins to grow very nervous about doing the right thing at a "grownup" party and bolts out of the apartment after a minor setback.
Susan chases him onto the rooftop. To cheer him up, she tells him how much her friends were impressed by such a special man as Josh. Susan can't help but agree with them. (One Special Man). Josh grows uncomfortable. Susan is expressing feelings of love to him that he is too young and too naive to return. He decides to tell Susan who he really is. Susan at first thinks Josh is playing another joke on her, but when he continues to tell her that he is only a teenager in real life, she interprets it as an elaborate brush-off. She slaps Josh across the face and runs off. She knew meeting the perfect man was too good to be true.
Dejected, Josh returns to his old neighborhood the next day. There is a lot more to being an adult he realizes, and now, it might be too late to go back to being a kid. (When You're Big). He notices the kids are doing a Skateboard Ballet. Everyone is skateboarding as usual, but one by one, each of the boys starts to head off in a direction with a girl friend. While he was an adult, Josh completely missed the joys of growing up through adolescence. He runs into Billy and immediately reconciles with him. He tells Billy he's ready and they head off to the warehouse with their friends.
Josh is already to make his wish on the "Zoltar Speaks" machine when Susan comes bursting in. She had to take a chance to see if Josh was telling the truth. When she finds out Josh was telling the truth, she says her final farewell to him, knowing that he must go back to being a boy again. (I Want to Go Home (Reprise) / Stars, Stars, Stars (Reprise)) With a final kiss, Josh makes his wish and transforms before Susan's eyes into his old self. Suddenly she leaves Josh alone while Billy rushes in with Mrs. Baskin. While mother and son reunite, another of Josh's friends eyes the machine that can grant wishes.
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