ALHAMBRA THEATRE AND DINING REVIEW
DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM [email protected]
Take a trip down the Mississippi River for two hours with the Alhambra’s second show of 2016, the 1985 Tony Award winning musical, “Big River,” based on Mark Twain’s great novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The songs by country musician Roger Miller shine through time and time again with warmth and welcome, and are mostly humorous.
Producer/Director Tod Booth’s “Big River“ is brisk, bouncy, and filled with an energetic spirit of fun, although it also includes serious moments related to the practice of slavery during the pre-Civil War era of its Southern setting.
The story follows Huckleberry, played by charismatic Alhambra newcomer Cameron Bartell, as he tries to avoid the attempts of the Widow Douglas (Patti Eyler) to civilize him. Huck, frightened by his abusive father, and urged on by the imagination of his best friend Tom Sawyer (Benjamin Smith), orchestrates his own faked murder and runs away. The song “Guv’ment,” sung by Huck’s whiskey-soaked father (Drew Taylor) certainly got our attention. Although written a number of years ago, the words made some of the same points heard today in political discourse.
Huck teams up with Jim, a runaway slave, played by James Webb. Long-time Alhambra fans may remember his marvelous portrayal of Joe in “Showboat,“ which included a fabulous version of “Old Man River.”
Various adventures await this duo and the most comical occurs when they are joined by Duke (Larry Draggett) and King (Erik DeCicco), two eccentric con men. DeCicco and Larry make a marvelous comedy team and clown it up shamelessly. You will love them despite the fact that they are ruthless villains with nefarious intent.
As Huck and Jim raft down the Mississippi, Huck gains new insights into the meaning of friendship and the condition of slavery; a shared understanding which is expressed in the moving duet “Worlds Apart.”
The four travelers attend a funeral and in one of the most powerful moments in the play, a group of slaves pay their last respects as an enslaved woman, portrayed by Sarah Sanders, sings Miller’s gospel song “How Blest We Are.” Her performance was stunning in its impact.
The Costume Crew created the wonderful period costumes that took us back to the 1840s. The scenic design by Ian Black and Dave Dionne with its river swamp trees and a glorious sunset really set the mood. You will feel as if you were a fellow adventurer on the raft.
The large cast has fine singers and dancers, with many actors in more than one role. The cast includes Kurt McCall, Travis Young, Lee Cohen, Conor Fallon, Salvatore Vieira, Alexia Adcock Stanford, Olivia Chernyshev, Cherry Hamlin, Jamilia Wells, Jereme Raickett, and Adonis Boyd.
The Production Staff included Tod Booth (Producer/ Director), James Kinney (Choreographer), Cathy Murphy Giddens ( Musical Director), Jason Nettle (Stage Manager), Tobias Evans (Lighting Designer), and Andrew Crews (Sound Designer).
The show is one for the entire family; an illustrated history lesson from the pen of Mark Twain, one of America’s most influential writers. The gala crowd loved “Big River” and you will too.
“Big River” opened on February 17, 2016 and will be on stage at 12000 Beach Boulevard, in Jacksonville, Florida through March 20. Call 904-641-1212 for reservations or visit alhambrajax.com.