The other day I was listening to a radio commercial heralding the “new” version of “The Phantom of the Opera,” now playing once again at the Providence Performing Arts Center, and the announcer was touting the fact that this production is “bigger and better than the original.” For the 130 million people in 28 countries and 148 cities who saw Phantom when it first hit the boards and loved it and perhaps saw it a few more times, they were happy — even delirious — with what was originally presented. So delirious that to date it has grossed $5.6 billion. The “bigger and better” is apparently a thinly veiled ploy to get those bodies back into the seats for essentially what is the same story, the same music, but perhaps just directed differently with a “bigger and better” set and costumes. It got me thinking how we are constantly having that message thrown at us: that bigger is always better. Well, as that time-honored Gershwin tune goes, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

There’s a restaurant in the Boston area that loudly proclaims, “Our roast beef is so big, it hangs off the plate. Somehow I don’t see that as an appetizing image; as for the workers at the linen company who service the restaurant, they must hate having to do those tablecloths.

Restaurants are really the guiltiest of culprits when it comes to bigger and better. One of the few restaurants left with an all-you-can-eat salad bar boasts that it has a 55-item selection. Of course when it breaks down, they’re counting nine dressings, croutons, nuts, crackers, and everything but your silverware in that total of 55. Still, they’re hoping this will motivate you to race there, since the “endless” part will keep you pigging out. Chinese buffets do that as well. Used to be, 10 years or so ago, there was a Chinese all-you-can-shovel-in on every corner. Now there aren’t many left, but the ones that are still doling out the lo mein often make claims of having over 100 items from which you can get your MSG high.

Same with bottomless giant mugs of soda, Coke advertised by a chain hamburger establishment with 125 flavors, extra large eggs, and now Oreos with three times the amount of filling in the middle. With all this “bigger and better,” is it any wonder that Americans have grown bigger and not necessarily better in the process?

There’s something refreshing about the “original,” about the smaller size, about what we first fell in love with. It was the “original” that made McDonald’s a worldwide icon ... they didn’t need to add lobster rolls a few years back. It was the “original” that made M&Ms the candy that “melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” Now they’ve got so many flavors you forget what the M&Ms you always so loved used to taste like. When successful companies and products go bigger and better, it’s usually all about bigger and better money. They forget just what it was upon which they built their success and now want only what greed can bring.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with reaching for the stars, with trying to attain new heights, with bettering what you have, but personally I think that works better with people than with food products, restaurants, and multimillion-dollar stage productions.

What was ever wrong with a small cup of coffee? Why have we made gigantic fountain delights out of them and charge upwards of $5 for something that no longer tastes like coffee? Remember a small, plain bagel? Now they’re the size of hub caps with chocolate chips and pizza flavors. Speaking of pizza, a great pie used to have tomato sauce, cheese, and perhaps some meat or vegetables. Who decided mashed potatoes, chocolate, mac and cheese, and strawberry balsamic were also fitting toppings?

If we contemplate a return to the simpler things in life, if we embrace the originals that first caught our fancy, life just might be sweeter without the caramelized apples and strawberry balsamic on top.

CORRECTION: In last week’s column, we made reference to Harrisburg Area Community College, also known as Central Pennsylvania Community College. It has a branded trademark of HACC, and the one-semester tuition for auctioneering ranges from $4,555 to $6,290, depending upon whether you are an in-state or out-of-state resident.

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at or 401-539-7762.

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