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Big River: the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

From the aisle
October 31, 2013


production of


The adventures of Huckleberry Finn

A musical

Reviewed by Robert Pond

Big River is a major fun production coming to us from the arts laboratory of learning at UAA.   The musical adaptation of Mark Twain’s classic novel is by William Hauptman with the music and lyrics by Roger Miller.  The original Broadway run opened in 1985 for two years, winning 7 Tonys; there was also a revival on Broadway in 2003.   It plays everywhere.  Big River is an ideal crowd pleaser at any level; there’s not a lot that can hurt it.  While entertaining, it can’t be expected to have the bite of Mark Twain’s language.  It’s gentler than Twain or it wouldn’t have been the fun song and dance production that Tom Skore’s staging gave us.

The story is the same as the classic you might remember from school.  In pre Civil War days, Huck Finn (Caleb Bourgeois) thinks he has to escape from home and his raft mate, a slave named Jim (Torrie Allen), knows he has to.  Along the way the adventures vaguely influence Huck’s maturation.   Huck’s trip down the Mississippi includes confronting his silly and somewhat abusive father Pap and a team of con artist, the Duke (Justin Stewart) and the King (Kordel Thompson), who are driven to scheme anyone out of their money and belongings.  Huck joins an escaping slave, Jim who dreams of freedom and joining his own family.  There are others that join the adventures, including Tom Sawyer.  Like any good melodrama, there are near misses, beautiful ladies, and lessons of life along the way.  It all somehow settles out in the end.

In tonight’s preview performance of Big River, it’s the music (Monica Lettner) and the well-executed choreography (Katherine Kramer) that really drive this show. The pre-show chorus was a bit confusing.  The singing selections rightly set the mood of the show though pitch and words struggled a bit.

There was no lacking in the energy of these young performers.  Caleb Bourgeois as Huckleberry Finn played his role intensely. While not a strong singer, he was impressive in his ability to hold his own during his duets with the dominating voice of guest artist Torrie Allen as Jim.  Torrie’s comfort zone was clearly in his singing.  It would be so good to see him perform in an opera.   It’s not clear about Mr. Allen’s interpretation of Jim.  Torrie’s performance revealed sophistication unexpected from Jim’s limited worldview.   The comedy duo of Justin Stewart (the Duke) and Kordel Thompson (the King) was an evening highlight.  Their work approached being a stand-alone act.   As it happened, they were a diversion.  Probably the most comfortable performer in this musical comedy was Taran Haynes as Tom Sawyer.  He’s the Donald O’Connor of this show with Haynes’ timing and his quick dance like blocking that enlivened the stage.  Clearly, musical comedy is his cup of tea.

The Character Ensemble was good.  There were good performances by many in the group.  It was so pleasant to see Cal Williams on stage again.  He has been involved in every aspect of local production for many years, especially shining as an actor and singer.  The set by Daniel Glen Carlgren was an intriguing design that housed the production without overwhelming the efforts on stage.

All in all, Big River is entertaining theatre and UAA’s production should have you tapping your feet to a tuneful evening and humming on the way home.




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