The Village Theatre proudly opened its 2012-2013 season this weekend with Big River, a musical version of Mark Twain’s classic tale, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Big River (book by William Hauptman and music and lyrics by Roger Miller) made its Broadway debut in 1985 and earned a host of Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score. Big River follows the story of young Huck Finn (Randy Scholz), ever the clever schemer, as he escapes from his drunken father and attempts to flee to safety along with Jim (Rodney Hicks), a slave who wants to head north to freedom. Along the way they encounter a whole host of characters, including the King (Richard Gray) and the Duke (Greg McCormick Allen), and have enough adventures to last a lifetime.
The show was by no means perfect, but many of the performances were terrific. Scholz impeccably captured the mischievous yet innocent charm of Huck Finn’s character, and his energy and voice really carried the show. Hicks’s singing was stellar. His powerful yet tender voice conveyed Jim’s fear, frustration and passion and gave me goosebumps every time I heard it. Stacie Pinkney Calkins was a standout soloist in â€˜The Crossing’ although the ensemble harmony was a bit off in the performance I attended. â€˜You Oughta Be Here with Me’ (sung by Taylor Niemeyer, Jessica Low and Lindsey Larson) was beautiful, although I have to agree with Jay Irwin at Broadway World that the song felt â€œtacked on.â€ It did not seem to serve any real purpose in the show.
I also felt like the first act dragged on a bit long. I prefer to be compelled by the story line rather than just waiting for the next scene to happen. Even though many audience members are familiar with the plot of Huck Finn, it is not enough to just put in the most memorable events of the story. Rather, they must be linked together to make a tightâ€‘knit story. (Irwin also criticized the lack of a strong story arc.)
One other point to mention is that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is very much a product of the time in which it was written. If you are debating whether Big River is appropriate for your children, I would strongly suggest reviewing the Village Theatre’s production preview guide which explains some potentially objectionable aspects of the show, including implied violence and, most notably, racially derogatory terms.
Big River plays at the Village Theatre in Issaquah through October 21, 2012, before moving to the Everett Performing Arts Center where it will run from October 26 through November 18, 2012.