Tuesday October 17th 2017

“Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

in 1884, Mark Twain wrote a novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, bringing the South and its traditions to the people up North. In his stories, we meet Huckleberry and his good friend Tom Sawyer (“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”). These are characters that Twain used to bring his feelings to the forefront. Many of us grew up with these stories being required as a part of our education. There were countless movies and as I recall, even a TV series (although it failed) that related to the tales of these buddies- Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.

William Hauptman (book) and Roger Miller ( music and lyrics) decided that these characters were ready for the Broadway stage and so they made a musical based on the characters and the ideas of Twain relating to same. The play, “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Book and Score. The music, by the way, is a great combination of “Country”, “Bluegrass” and” Gospel”, and this particular story tells of the funny and sometimes dangerous river journey that was taken by young Huckleberry Finn ( a wonderful performance by  James Romney, a loveable actor/singer that captivates the warmth and soul that Twain wrote into Finn) and his friend Jim ( played to sheer perfection by Jonathan Butler-Duplessis- what a voice!) as Huck attempts to help him find his “freedom”. Along the way, they encounter con-men ( two solid performances by Brett Tuomi and the extraordinary Jason Richards).

One of the neat things about this particular production at Theatre At The Center in Munster, is that each and every performer is a part of the band (just as each and every band member is a part of the story telling). Some play spoons, other coffee mugs and others every country band instrument ever used on a “Blues-Grass” band! Other cast members include Kyle Quinlivan as Tom Sawyer, Caitlin Cavanaugh, Liz Chidester, Matt Edmonds, Garrett Lutz, Johanna  McKenzie Miller, Aaron Mitchell Reese, Adhana Reid, Jason Richards, Camille Robinson and Steven Romero Schaeffer- some of these actors take on 5 plus roles! In addition to their acting, most of them also participate by playing the solid musical pieces designed to propel the story.

“Jim” is going to escape to the North to earn enough to buy his wife and his children from their owners. This was a time of slavery and these people were bought and sold, breaking up family units. This is history! This play opens up one’s eyes to what was happening in those days, but with the comical touches and the energetic musical numbers, we are not smacked in the face with the facts of what was happening in our country. Thanks to the clever direction and choreography by Linda Fortunato and the musical direction by William Underwood, the new production of “Big River” (for short) , now onstage at Theatre At The Centre in Munster allows us to think about our history in race relations to the NTH degree. Read the papers and watch the news broadcasts, almost daily, and one can see the topsy-turvy world that still exists. Perhaps, bringing this story to light, will help more younger people understand just how tough the situation is for people of color.

Munster audiences appreciate this theater and find this the “place to go ” for entertainment. “Big River” deals with history, race relations and of course is designed to entertain with songs such as  “River In The Rain”, “The Royal Nonesuch ” (a very comical con number), “Free At Last” ( a very meaningful tribute to those who fought for the freedom that was given to them, and many others). Only a prolific writer like Twain could create some of these characters and in this particular production, Fortunato makes them realistic and in some cases, very credible. The journey to freedom that we take with “Big River” will be memorable and educational. While you may not recall much in the way of characters, you will know that the basic premise is about a young man, who feels he must get away from those foster-parenting him (escape) and a slave, who seeks his freedom as well as that of his wife, daughter and son. All he wants is to be a FAMILY again!

TAC has great sightlines, so no matter where you sit, you see all the action. Fortunato has created a way to keep the band as part of the play. Each member seated in the center of the stage, in a circular seating arrangement, also has some lines and every actor , at one time or another joins in with the band to make Miller’s amazing music even stronger. With the exception of Finn, Jim, Sawyer and Mary Jane, every ensemble member plays several roles- and they do it with style and grace. The production is about two-hours-thirty-minutes with a 15 minute intermission.

While the basic idea of the story stresses the importance of family, in my mind, it is friendship that we deal with-true friendship. We all have friends and acquaintances. Many of us are unsure as to which is which. Following the trail of Jim and Huck will open your eyes on this matter allowing you to consider which is which. This musical was written and produced over 100 years after the original novel hit the streets, and yet, the message is still clear.

The set designed by Ann Davis, the costumes (Brenda Winstead), lighting (Guy Rhodes), sound (Michael J. Patrick) and props (Brittney O’Keefe) all make the show visual and audio perfect on the tech side, adding to the sheer perfection on the part of Fortunato.

“Big River” will continue at Theatre At The Center, located at 1040 Ridge Road in Munster (Indiana, just over the border) thru October 15th with a performance schedule as follows:

Wednesdays  2 p.m.

Thursdays  2 p.m.

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  3 p.m. and  7:30 p.m.

Sundays  2:30 p.m.

There are some additional Thursday and Sunday performances. Check www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com

Tickets range from $40-$44 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 800-511-1552 (or 219-836-3255) or online at www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com

Plenty of free parking available and when coming to Munster, lots of dining in the area, as well as the BEST donuts at Munster Donuts-they are beautiful!

By the way, the theater is located just off I-80/94, 35 minutes from the LOOP

 

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Big River”

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