You probably know Huckleberry Finn from Mark Twain’s famous 1884 novel, but I’ll bet you didn’t know he could sing! Check out College of Marin’s new production of the 1988 Tony Award-winning musical Big River. The big river is, of course, the Mississippi, and the show follows Huck’s transformative journey down that stream with the escaped slave Jim. Twain’s book, an American classic seems to be aimed at the young adult reader, but it explores the deeper meanings of friendship, loyalty, and the knowledge of good and evil. Closely following the book, Big River does the same.
Zachary Isen’s amazing turn as Huckleberry evolves slowly over the course of the musical to an emotional maturity while never leaving behind the boyish charm that lies at the heart of the character. Huck deliberately ignores the legal and social strictures of the day in helping the escaped slave Jim (Phillip Percy Williams) along his road to freedom. Williams’ sensitive portrayal of Jim’s mentoring role, and powerful singing bring heart and soul to the production. A large supporting cast allows a wide variety of production numbers that get heads nodding and toes tapping throughout the audience. Especially moving songs include “The Crossing” by the Slave Ensemble, and “River in the Rain,” night crossings during which we see a friendship bloom on its way into the tragic heart of the American South.
Roger Miller’s music and lyrics are reflective of the show’s historical era, alternating between high-stepping barn dance, quiet reflective waltz melodies, and the deep soul of the yet-to-be-freed Africans enslaved in America’s South. Inventive staging has the same space doing multiple duty as a town and its wharves, steamboat, the shore and the big river itself. A seven-piece orchestra provides the musical background, lively and poignant by turns, leading up to the powerful and triumphant reprise of “Muddy Water” that closes the show.
This wonderful show has only a short run. Don’t miss it.
March 2, 8, 9, 15 and 16 at 8 pm March 10 and 17 at 2 pm
Tickets: $25 general, $18 seniors, $15 students, $10 children 12 and under
James Dunn Theatre, College of Marin Kentfield Campus
Box Office: 415.485.9385