Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Big River"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2004 by Tony Annicone

"Big River"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Company Theatre's current show is the Roger Miller hit musical, "Big River" which is based on the Mark Twain novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The original show opened at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in New York on April 25, 1985 where it won 7 Tony Awards and ran for 1005 performance on Broadway. Twain's timeless classic sweeps us down the might Mississippi as the irrepressible Huck Finn helps his friend Jim, a slave, escape to freedom at the mouth of the Ohio River. Their adventures along the way are hilarious, suspenseful and heartwarming, bringing to life your favorite characters from the novel. Some of them include the Widow Douglas and her stern sister, Miss Watson, the uproarious King and Duke, who may not be as harmless as they seem, Huck's partner in crime, Tom Sawyer, and their rowdy gang of pals, Huck's drunken father, the sinister Pap Finn, the lovely Mary Jane Wilkes and her trusting family as well as many other unforgetable characters. Directors Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman infuse this show with 37 fantastic, Broadway like performers while musical director, Michael Joseph brings out the best in their vocal skills while conducting a superb orchestra and choreographer Sally Ashton Forrest gets topnotch dancing out of the whole ensemble, making me and the whole audience jump to its feet to give it a much deserved standing ovation . Why bother going to New York to see a show when you can catch this excellent and brilliant production at Company Theatre in Norwell, MA, making this a show that must not be missed this summer.

Zoe and Jordie chose the best performers to fit every role including some mighty talented young people in the cast and they block this huge production so you can see what's happening at all times. The backdrops are breathtaking with the picturesque views of the countryside and the river. Using a fog machine to simulte water, they make the stage look real with actual film of the Ohio River by Alicia Saucerman. With lighting they create rain and stars, setting the mood and tone for each scene. The magnificent music by Michael and his orchestra which he conducts is fabulous from the overture to the closing notes of the show. He also taught this huge cast the gorgeous melodies and harmonies throughout this glorious score, making them a joy to listen to. Sally's choreography has the whole cast moving in unison with various moves including a kickline, soft shoe and energetic moves by Huck and Tom's gang. These elements of the show blend together to create a stunning masterpiece of Americana. Kudos to all who make this show the success it is.

The two leads in this show are incredible. Andrew Mackin who is a high school senior at Boston College High School is absolutely awesome as Huck Finn.(He recently appeared in Clint Eastwood's Academy Award winning movie, Mystic River.) This young man is a triple threat performer at an early age and not only narrates this show but sings and dances like a well seasoned pro. Andrew's southern accent is dynamite and his singing voice is, too.He acts up a storm from start to finish and his solo numbers are "Waitin' For the Light to Shine" where he wants to know what to do to make his life better and "I, Huckleberry, Me" where he sings about his philosophy of life. The power and strength of his voice comes through on his duets with Joseph Rucker Jr. who is fantastic as Jim. Joseph captures the power and grace of this noble slave who is helped by this young and naive teenager and his voice is majestic and awe inspiring. Their duets include the show stopping "Muddy Water" where they sing about the power of the river, "River in the Rain" where the fog moves in while the rain falls on the backdrop and "World's Apart", a poignant ballad that shows even though they might be different racially they still see things in the same way. Andrew also leads the chorus in a reprise of Waitin' for the Light to Shine" in Act 2 which is another showstopping number (the whole chorus is singing and dancing with Mark Twain and Huck) while Joseph gets thunderous applause with "Free at Last", a powerful statement delivered while the chorus raises their voices with him. (Andrew and Joseph sing counterpoint in some of the numbers superbly.) Bravo to both of them for a job very well done.

The supporting cast does topnotch work as their two leading players. 18 year old Trevor Effinger plays the trouble making, not too bright, Tom Sawyer. Trevor is a bundle of energy, moving at the speed of light. He dances and bounds around the stage with ease as well as somersalts everywhere, too. Trevor's lines are electric with his comic delivery and he sells his two songs, "The Boys" where he forms a highway man type of gang with the other boys in town as well as in "Hand for the Hog" where Huck describes how he escaped his father while Tom sings the song. Two of the biggest scene stealers in this show are the shady duo, the King and the Duke played by Christopher Landis and Bill Cunningham. They pretend to be royalty while in fact they are conmen who just escaped from jail. Their comic antics and songs are a hoot. Their first number is a vaudeville type song called "When the Sun Goes Down in the South. They sing and dance up a storm together and with Andrew, they do a kickline finish with Joseph joining in the chorus. The medicine show type song is called "The Royal Nonesuch" with Bill trying to con the townfolks out of their money for a fake man/woman with one boob in the middle. Christopher and Bill's acting are hilarious and they many laughs with their crazy and wild antics. Another scene stealer is Tom Norcott as Pap Finn. Tom makes his debut on stage in this show and what a debut it is. His evil character is frightening at first but when he breaks into a song about the dadgum government called "Guv'ment", Pap wins the people's hearts. Other vocal standouts include Dee Crawford as an escaped slave who is caught and brought back in the song called "The Crossing". Dee's powerpacked vocal prowess captures the Gospel flavor of this song perfectly. Another gospel number is lead by the talented Tracy Silva who just sang with the Boston Pops on July 4th. She has a glorious voice and it sends chills up your spine with its beauty. Dan Moore plays several roles in this show including the pivotal one of Mark Twain. Twain appears now and then to help Huck narrate what's happening. Recent college graduate Sara Spillane shows off her voice in "You Oughta Be Here With Me" where she sings with her sisters about the death of their father and in "Leavin's Not the Only Way to Go" where she sings a lovely ballad with Huck and Jim. The Widow Douglas is played by Jaime Steinbach with a comic flair as is her stern acting but soft hearted sister, Miss Watson played by Alison Barrett who is very funny, too. The numerous other performers include the talented young men in Tom's gang and the large talented performers and chorus. ( 14 year old Nicholas Venturelli is a hoot as the young fool who blabs the town secrets to the Duke and the King and he gets a chance to show off his singing voice in the funny song "Arkansas".) So for a Broadway style show, be sure to catch "Big River" at Company Theatre. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Big River" (30 July - 22 August)
30 Accord Park Drive, NORWELL MA
1 (781) 871-2787

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide