Big River       

By Roz Friedman

It is not too late to take advantage of a theatrical family entertainment, running now through August 1st.  Summer Theatre of New Canaan, located under a white tent in Waveny Park, is presenting a spirited Hoedown and satisfying production of Big River. With his big warm voice and personality, Joshua W. Heggie is a standout as Jim, the runaway slave. This musical based on Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, won Tony Awards twenty-five years ago. The box office # is 203-966-4634.  (PSA)

William Hauptman’s Book is true to the intent of Mark Twain’s themes and visions, pointing up the vicissitudes of slavery in 1884 through the eyes of three young men, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and a slave named Jim; Roger Miller’s words and music in songs like “Do Ya Wanna Go to Heaven?”  “Muddy Water,” “River in the Rain,” and “Worlds Apart,” are very pleasant and tell the story.  

Artistic Director/Director Melody Libonati has brought many nice touches to Big River, including her use of talented orchestra members playing roles on stage as well. The musical opens with Christian Libonati, an energetic, puckish Huck, playing the Harmonica, and Edmund Bagnell, a stellar Tom, soloing beautifully on the violin.

It seems that Huck has inherited a good amount of money and has been adopted by the kindly Widow Douglas (charming Gail Yudain). When his mean, alcoholic Pap (Steve Greenstein) kidnaps him and practically kills him, Huck escapes and embarks on a journey with Jim on a raft down the Mississippi. While Huck is anxious to get away from his Pap, and school, and see the world, Jim yearns to find, buy back and unite his wife and children. He misses them terribly.

Along the way, the two innocents meet up with some frauds and scallywags. We particularly enjoyed the Duke, acted adorably by Lou Ursone, Executive Director of Curtain Call in Stamford, and Drew Davidson’s whimsical King. These two fleece a town and a family, and turn Jim in, all for money, but suffer the consequences.

Emilie Roberts is a charming Miss Watson.

The large ensemble works very well together, Choreographed by Doug Shankman, Costumed by Elizabeth Poindexters and Sarita Fellows on a well-designed Set with moving raft by Andrew Boyce, Lit by Jeffrey Whitsett, Big River is worth the trip to The Summer Theatre of New Canaan in Waveny Park through Aug 1.

Box Office 203-966-4634.   

This review originally aired on WMNR  88.1FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO


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