note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Beverly Creasey
Turtle Lane is on a winning streak. Their last show, a rollicking production of SMOKY JOE’S CAFÉ, is now the stuff of legend. Their current rousing production of BIG RIVER is on its way to becoming a big hit. If you haven’t seen it, this is the production to beat. I saw the original at the American Repertory Theatre and the Broadway version, both of which were fine productions but I wasn’t thrilled. Imagine my surprise when Turtle Lane’s did thrill me! Chemistry is the reason.
The small Turtle Lane theater is just the right size. Director Elaina Vrattos and music director Markus Hauck get just the right sound from the ensemble, and the two actors portraying Huck Finn and his friend, Jim (who run away together on a raft floating down Mark Twain’s beloved Mississippi) have just the right chemistry. You could listen to Adam Shenk and Joshua Heggie sing “Muddy Water” and “Big River” ‘til the cows come home. They take Roger Miller’s folksy tunes and turn them into anthems. Gospel singer Dee Crawford (of SMOKY JOE fame) is another big reason BIG RIVER soars.
The TLP production crackles with energy. Each new adventure for Huck and Jim is more harrowing than the last. TLP veteran, Robert Jacobs, gets to play two flamboyant bad guys and he gets to deliver the goods in a nifty vaudeville turn, along with funny man Blake Siskavich. Jonathan Popp is hilarious as a wild and wooly Tom Sawyer and Russell Peck is charming as the fool from Arkansas. Natasha Warloe sings the show’s romantic ballad in a lovely, lilting soprano.
Lest you think this is a kid’s show, although children will be delighted with the theatrical hijinks, BIG RIVER tackles big issues like slavery. It’s disturbing to hear anyone use the “N” word but Twain sets his novel in the South just after the Civil War and William Hauptman, who authored the book for the musical, doesn’t shy away from history. You might want to explain to your kids ahead of time that Huck doesn’t know any better when he uses the demeaning term---but he will know better by the end of the story.
John MacKenzie’s lighting is luminous, right down to the fireflies that usher in the show. MacKenzie and Michelle Boll’s fairytale foliage makes the perfect setting for TLP’s uplifting, joyous production. Don’t miss it.