Goodspeed’s Raft-ers Ring with BIG RIVER Cheers

By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Jim the escaped slave, a raft and the Mississippi River are the primary characters in the Goodspeed Opera House production of  BIG RIVER.

Playing on the East Haddam stage until November 30th, the show, magically directed by Rob Ruggiero, is a tuneful and lively slice of Americana.

The music and lyrics, by Roger Miller, will please theatergoers of all tastes – there are beautiful ballads, lively banjo solos, soulful spirituals, vaudeville duos, country/western choruses, and boffo Broadway numbers.

Will Reynolds as Huck Finn and Russell Joel Brown as Jim are the heart and soul of the show.  Their presence dominates most of the rafting scenes, and they blend their beautiful voices in wonderful songs – River in the Rain, Muddy Water, and Worlds Apart are among the best.  Huck’s solo, and later reprise, Waitin’ for the Light to Shine is as uplifting as a Broadway showstopper can get.

The Mark Twain story, adapted for the stage by William Hauptman, is told to the audience in a folksy charming way by Huck, who wanders on to the stage at the opening, and spins the tale, directly addressing the audience, until the final scene.

The tragedy of slavery and the friendship of the boy, Huck, for his companion, Jim, is the underlying theme of the story.  The Crossing and How Best We Are, sung by Christine Lyons and A’Lisa D. Miles respectively, punctuate the heart-wrenching plight of life under slavery.  And can these women sing!

For comic relief, Jeremy Jordon, as Tom Sawyer, lights up the stage with his hilarious ‘pig song’- Hand for the Hog.  (Jeremy received a Connecticut Critics Circle nomination earlier this year for his part in the Hartford TheaterWorks’ play The Little Dog Laughed.  We enthusiastically voted for him.)

The cast, made up of more than twenty talented and accomplished professional actors/singers/dancers is accompanied onstage by comedic actor David M. Lutken, who plays one mean guitar, banjo and autoharp, and by the brilliant orchestra conducted by Michael O’Flaherty and featuring violinist Karin Fagerburg.

BIG RIVER deserves to have been revived by Goodspeed Opera House.  It is a quintessential American musical, by a quintessential American writer, Mark Twain.  Don’t miss it!

Tony Schillaci and Don Church are members of the Connecticut Critics Circle ( 

©2008. Critics On The Aisle. All rights reserved.

To be published in The Resident November 26, 2008

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