Riding the 'Big River' With Huck And Jim PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 08 May 2017 15:49

Among the enduring chronicles of American life are the works of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, and the characters he created, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Big River  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe adventures of Tom and Huck have come off the written page in several forms since they appeared in the last part of the 19th century. Among the most recent is “Big River,” the 1985 Broadway musical based on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

The South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Big River,” directed by Leigh Taylor, opened Friday evening in the Wilson Auditorium.

The multi-Tony Award-winning show blends William Hauptman’s theatrical adaptation of Twain’s book with a just-right score by the late Roger (“King of the Road”) Miller guaranteed to set a large number of toes tapping!

Big Rivef  South Bend (IBN) Civic TheatreThe sprawling libretto follows Huck (Braden Allison) as he escapes from all efforts to teach him to read and write and from his abusively drunken Pap (Cecil Eastman) and finds himself on a raft in the Mississippi River with Jim (Del’Shawn Taylor), a runaway slave heading to freedom in the North.

The duo bonds during their journey (“Muddy Water,” “River in the Rain”) even though Huck still believes helping the runaway is the wrong thing to do, since he is the property of Huck’s guardian Miss Watson (Kat Quirk). It takes a few eye-opening experiences before the boy realizes that they both are human beings (“Worlds Apart”).

Along the way, the raft is commandeered by two con men — the King (David Case) and the Duke (Nick Hidde-Halsey) — making a hasty getaway from an angry mob. They convince Huck of their “royal” ancestry and include him in their schemes (“The Royal Nonesuch”), first chaining Jim on the raft with plans to sell him.

Hearing of a fortune left to a local family’s distant (and unknown) relative, Duke and King set out to claim the inheritance from the grieving clan.

The story twists and turns with enough kinks to please even master plotter Tom Sawyer (Graham Sparks) who kicks up his heels in my favorite musical non sequitur “Hand For The Hog.” By the time the “Sun Goes Down in The South,” the criminals get their comeuppance, the righteous get their rewards and Huck gets the chance at another adventure.

Big River  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe two and a half-hours plus running time is filled with enough of Miller’s lovely melodies, high-steppin’ bluegrass airs and sharp-tongued country tunes to make the time pass fairly swiftly.

The dialogue, however, especially when laden with on-again, off-again varying southern accents, is frequently difficult to follow. The “royal” comic relief unfortunately relies on the “louder is funnier” school of humor which too often is just louder.

Big River  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs Huck, Allison carries most of the action and, as narrator, all of the storyline. It is a demanding task, especially for a high school freshman, and he acquits himself admirably. (Note to costumes: Spending all that time on a raft and in the woods, he might at least get a little dirt on his white shirt.)

Taylor has a powerful baritone which he uses to full advantage not only in the duets with Allison but also in his solo “Free At Last.”

Lyrics in the novelty numbers (Miller’s forte) are too often muddled, especially in ”Guv’ment,” Pap’s tirade which sadly seems even more relevant today.

As the nearly-swindled heiress Mary Jane Wilkes, Josie Burck joins Huck and Jim in a sensitive rendition of the show’s loveliest ballad, “Leavin’s Not the Only Way to Go.”

The appropriately-staffed band — violin, guitar, bass, percussion — led by keyboardist/music director Roy Bronkema provides just the right sound for Miller’s country score.

David Cbudzynski’s flexible set allows the focus to move from interiors to exteriors, with emphasis on THE raft.

The absence of the “n” word is obvious only because its inclusion in the book caused such a library brouhaha several years ago. It has been replaced here with other “appropriate” epithets.

“BIG RIVER” plays through May 21 in the theater at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations call (594) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.

Last Updated on Monday, 08 May 2017 16:07
 

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