By Marlene S. Gaylinn

There’s a lot of hootin’, hollerin’, and stompin’ in Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s (STONC) energetic production of “Big River.”  Based on Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” this professional company’s rendition is certainly one big “Hootenanny.”

Under the direction of Melody Libonati, from the company’s rousing, opening number, “Do You Want to go to Heaven” to the Reprise: “River in the Rain” and “Muddy Water,” and every song and action in-between, the audience is kept spellbound and hand-clapping by a wonderful cast starring Christian Libonati as “Huck Finn,” Edmund Bagnell as “Tom Sawyer” and Joshua Heggie as “Jim.”  Adding to the production is 10-piece, live orchestra under the direction of Dan Micciche.  Several, young, orchestra members double as actors, for example, handsome, multi-talented, Edmund Bagnell, plays Tom Sawyer as well the fiddle – and it’s hard to tell which he does best.  Doug Shankman, who was nominated by CT Critics Circle for previous works, is the choreographer.

The story concerns society’s rebel, Huckleberry Finn, who hooks up with runaway slave, Jim.  The two encounter various happy and sad adventures, as they float on a raft down the Mississippi River.  Libonati’s “Huck,” is filled with typical, teenaged animation.  Although he comes across more boyish than developing man (partially due to his velvet voice) the actor’s lively performance is engrossing.  Jim is portrayed with deep feeling, especially in “Free At Last” sung by Heggie, and Tom was never more real as Bagnell looks and plays him to the fullest.  Worthy of special mention is character actor, Steve Greenstein who plays “Pap Finn” and “Sheriff Bell.”  Lou Ursone and John Blackwell also provide some very comic elements.   The story becomes convoluted and a bit drawn out in the last act but that’s how Mark Twain’s tale goes.  It all works out happy though.

This big river of fun that flows under the all-weather tent at Wavenly Park is a rare experience that the entire family will enjoy.

Plays through Aug. 1.  Call 203-966-4634 for tickets and information.

This review appears in July “On Connecticut Theatre.”


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