Big River is based on the familiar story of Huckleberry Finn, his friend Tom Sawyer, and the runaway slave Jim. Roger Miller's eclectic score evokes the essence of the antebellum South with a tuneful mixture of folk, country music, and spirituals.
The people and places Huck and Jim experience on their trip down the river were vividly brought to life in The Gallery Players' spirited revival. The show was about 20 minutes too long, but the happy folks in the audience didn't seem to mind. M.R. Goodley and her genial cast brought an uplifting energy and esprit de corps to the proceedings, which had audience members clapping and tapping their feet.
Leading the large cast was young Mark Haruf as Huck. His engaging presence and boyish good looks made him ideal as Huck. His clear tenor voice soared throughout the hall, but early on was troubled by persistent pitch problems that were rectified by the second act. Boise Holmes was a towering presence as Jim. Holmes's resounding bass-baritone voice sounded wonderful in "Free at Last," and his subtle acting was a pleasure. John Battista made an appropriately inebriated spectacle of himself as Huck's crude father, Pap. Damian Long contributed a delightfully high-spirited Tom Sawyer. His rendition of the hilarious "Hand for the Hog" was a comic highlight. James Hay as the King and Timothy Roselle as the Duke were hysterically funny as the sleazy villains looking to rip people off at every opportunity. Their song-and-dance routines, paying homage to vaudeville, were raucous and fun. Pam Feight, a sympathetic Widow Douglas, also did an eccentric turn as the Strange Woman. Sidney Fortner was suitably prim as the straitlaced Miss Watson, and was later a likable Aunt Sally. Joselle James as Mary Jane, the ingenue with a spine of steel, contributed a mellow alto voice in "You Oughta Be Here with Me." Natalie Lebert was heartbreaking as the slave Alice, who is almost separated from her children. Her touching rendition of "How Blest Are We" was one of the most touching moments of the show, but she experienced some wavering pitch in the upper register.
Musical Director Peter Yarin and his small stage band played with verve, keeping a relaxed yet energized pace throughout, with the help of James Martinelli's lively choreography. M.R. Goodley's collaborative directing style and attention to subtleties of language created an authentic period feel.
Gion DeFrancesco's unique and innovative set looked like a huge version of the original edition of the Twain classic, with fabulous reproductions of the pen-and-ink drawings and an ingenious raft made from a platform on wheels. Todd M. Reemtsma's warm, golden lights created a cozy ambience, bringing depth and texture to all areas of the stage. Stephanie Hall's costumes looked very well on the attractive performers, with the women's pastel dresses particularly appealling.
With Tara Anderud, Katherine Claire Bilovsky, Hugh Mack Dill, Robert F. Doxsey, Ken Dray, Daia Michaels, Skip Moore, Tomoko Otsuka, Daniel Poblocki, Christopher Roddy, Michiko Takemasa, and J. Kevin Tallent.
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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern