Big River at STONC

By Tom Nissley

A visit to the Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s "Big River" opening night was entirely satisfying. The rambling story of Huck and Jim on the Mississippi, inspired by Mark Twain’s "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," was beautifully performed on a handsome set that made full use of the see-through tent that houses the company on the edge of Waveny Park. Most folks would probably describe this creative production, directed by Melody Libonati, as ‘perfect.’ I certainly would.

The cast features Joshua W. Heggie as Jim, Christian Libonati as Huck, and Edmund Bagnell as Tom Sawyer, along with Kate Bodenheimer as Mary Jane, Drew Davidson as the King, Lou Ursone as the Duke, and Steve Greenstein as Pap Finn. Malika Petty and Denise Michelle Johnson are cast as Mary Jane’s slaves. Emilie Roberets is Miss Watson, Gail Yudain plays the Widow Douglas and Aunt Sally Phelps, with Richard Hartley Weidlich as Silas Phelps. Mr. Heggie and Ms. Petty and Ms. Bodenheimer have wonderful and rich voices and sing the key numbers in the musical to lots of well-deserved applause.

The music within the production, by Roger Miller, and directed by Dan Micciche, moves between spiritual-inspired songs of freedom, and spirited country or river music, and it’s provided by an on-stage band that also has Edmund Bagnell (Tom Sawyer) playing the lead violin/fiddle, and Sean Peterson (Jo Harper in the cast) playing guitar. It’s a great inclusive element that is natural for STONC!

The simple story of Huck Finn learning beyond his southern culture to discover that Jim and he are more alike than dissimilar, and the touching awareness, forcefully carved out by Twain’s craft, that slavery’s many facets in American life are based on ignorance is still relevant. Jim and Huck’s duet, ‘Worlds Apart,’ is in many ways the centerpiece of the musical.

So for lots of reasons I recommend this show - not the least to be in touch with fine theater in New Canaan, right here, right now. Call for tickets at 203-966-4634 or go online to www.STONC.org. 

[Big River runs through August 1 - this review was released on July 17, 2010]

Tom  Nissley, for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre

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