"Big River," based on Mark Twain's classic, "Huck Finn," has enjoyed a popular run so far at Village Theatre's Francis Gaudette Theatre in Issaquah, and soon to move to the Everett Performing Arts Center.
I've seen the show, along with my sister, and my drama student niece watched it too (with 30-minute rush tickets--a good value for students). Here are my top 5 reasons why it's worth seeing, á la Letterman list.
5. The music. There are some who simply love Roger Miller, and I applaud them. For me, the first three or so musical numbers, from a theatrical point of view, seemed a bit labored and didn't move us as quickly forward as I would have hoped, but the ensemble numbers and duets were moving and incredible, and at times humorous. If you enjoy musicals, 'Big River' doesn't disappoint, and the added fun of having musicians onstage (one in the form of a Twain lookalike, John Patrick Lowrie) brings the down-home feeling the piece strives for. If you aren't moved by the slave Alice's daughter (Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako) singing How Blest We Are, not much will move you. The Duke and the King, played by Greg McCormick Allen and Richard Gray, respectively, were well-balanced in their inherent evilness by the downright comedy of some of their numbers.
4. The costumes. May not seem like much, but I think the costuming was expert, not only in capturing the period and the setting, but softening the at times harshness of the themes the show deals with. Pastels reminiscent in many ways of Maurice Sendak's fabulous Nutcracker sets, I loved the visuals. Kudos to costume designer Melanie Burgess.
3. The sets. Ok, by now, you can tell I'm theater-geeking out, but I was not the only one thoroughly impressed with the way the scenery reflected the movement of a river. My sister and I simultaneously oohed and aahed at the raft effortlessly flowing down the "river" and how the boat seemed to float up to the docks as they floated in from offstage. Again, chapeau to the scenic designers and artists.
2. Randy Scholz as Huck Finn. How actor Randy Scholz manages to be so childlike and a powerful stage presence escapes me. He had a hard job to match the power of Rodney Hicks' performance as Jim, but he is both impressively boyish and endearing as the boy who wouldn't grow up in the story we all know so well.
1. Rodney Hicks as Jim. If you've never been to Broadway and you want to know what it's like, go see Big River, because Hicks, a Broadway veteran (such as in the original cast of 'Rent') will show you what you've been missing. Village Theatre did well to cast him as the lead in Big River, because his power both in stage presence and in his clear, resonating baritone in the musical numbers that are the centerpiece of the play really make the show. Hicks is a powerhouse, and it's a performance not to be missed.
If You Go
Big River continues through Oct. 21 in Issaquah, then moves to Everett, where the run continues in Everett:
ISSAQUAH: September 12-October 21, 2012
EVERETT: October 26-November 18, 2012