Transcript: Connie Meng Review aired Thursday, June 23, 2005
Big River, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
BIG RIVER, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, based on the Mark Twain classic, is a grand, sprawling show with terrific music by Roger Miller, he of "King of the Road" fame. William Hauptman's book closely follows the novel and features Twain's unforgettable characters. When it opened on Broadway in 1985 it swept most of that year's Tony awards.
Unlike Twain's earlier work TOM SAWYER, this is a tale for adults that deals with slavery, bigotry, domestic violence and sadistic humor. For Huck, his trip down the river with the escaped slave Jim is a journey of growth to maturity. Don't misunderstand - there's plenty of light humor and lively music to keep the youngest audience member enthralled.
John Paul Devlin's unit set works very well for this production, with plenty of levels and just enough movement of the raft. He's done a beautiful river backdrop that's enhanced by his excellent lighting design.
The costumes by Linda E. Kelly are right for the show and period, but look much too new and clean, especially Pap and those of the tarts and other Bucktown residents and that of Pap.
Tom Cleary has done a terrific job with the music. The sound from the pit is much fuller than one would expect from six musicians. Time precludes my listing their names but suffice it to say their expertise is obvious. Michael Lounsberry's sound is good - well-balanced and unobtrusive.
The cast is generally strong. Jackie Comisar does a nice job as Mary Jane, especially in her songs. As the Widow Douglas, Tawnya Kristin gives a solid performance, but goes astray with a peculiar interpretation of the Woman in the Shanty.
Marc Tumminelli brings down the house with his enthusiastic performance of "Arkansas." The weak link in the cast is Mary Carol Maganzini, who gives an amateurish performance as both Miss Watson and Aunt Sally.
Jason Nettle is a bit long in the tooth for Tom Sawyer, but he does a nice job, especially in Act II. As Pap John David Alexander tears into his role and song with great relish.
Kenneth Kimmins as the King and Bill Farley as the Duke are both wonderful. The Duke's Shakespeare jumble is very funny as are his non-verbal contortions during the King's malapropish funeral oration. They're both good actors, and even the Duke's death scene is believable.
In the two major roles Dwelvan David as Jim and John Gardiner as Huck are excellent. I've seen Mr. Gardiner in other roles and think this is his strongest performance. He and Mr. David are both good actors endowed with good voices. They establish a wonderful relationship that leads to wonderful duets. "Worlds Apart" is beautifully acted and sung and leads naturally into Mr. David's story of his daughter, perhaps the play's most moving scene.
Director/Choreographer Kieth Andrews has done a good job with the choreography, especially "We Are the Boys", and the staging throughout flows smoothly in this episodic piece. He's also brought out the humanity of this non-traditional musical while retaining all its humor. You'll tap your toes, laugh, and also be deeply moved by Jim's anthem "Free At Last."
On a scale of one to five the St. Michael's Playhouse production of BIG RIVER gets four and a third covered bridges. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.
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