A Parent’s Review: Big River
The Mississippi River is not just a river. It is the greatest American river, and the story of Huckleberry Finn just might be the greatest American story. Set to the captivating musical score by Roger Miller, Village Theatre’s Big River brings Huck’s story to life.
Village Theatre has a reputation of great productions, and Big River may eclipse even what a seasoned theater-goer expects. With a little pre-show preparation for the storyline and the issues it includes, this show is sure to be a great family event.
From the moment Huck decides to leave the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, we know a great adventure is at hand. Huck meets up with Tom Sawyer and the gang to begin planning, or scheming as it might be. Here my 8-year-old daughter drew a most unusual connection. She said that Huck was like Peter Pan. With my mind racing to find some similarity, she added that they both spit in their hands before they shake on agreements.
My 11-year-old son enjoyed the scene with Tom and the gang for the dancing and their physical antics. Speaking of antics, David Anthony Lewis’s portrayal of Pap was a huge crowd-pleaser. Despite the humor, I think my kids were a little uncomfortable with the character of Pap. It was hard for them to view him as a father when he was so drunk, selfish and abusive to Huck. However, it is this less-than-ideal relationship that forces Huck out into his adventures and makes him open for the relationships that come.
Then we meet Jim. Every now and then someone on stage opens his or her mouth, and what comes out is so completely beyond what you were expecting that it takes a moment for your mind to realign with reality. That is exactly how we felt when Rodney Hicks, who plays Jim, sang the first phrase of Muddy Water. My son turned to me and simply mouthed, “wow!” There may be fancier words for the magic that is Hick’s voice, but I think “wow” sums it up quite nicely.
My daughter was intrigued with the set design, wanting to know how the raft moved on stage in such a fluid manner. All the way home both kids were busy discussing plausible scenarios for how the sets worked. While I’m not sure that they ever figured it out, I am sure that the sets were masterfully done by Scott Fyfe. The ease with which one scene transitioned to the next was remarkable.
The story of Huck Finn is one that makes some people uncomfortable. Classics have a way of doing that. There is some mild language, a drunk, and no escaping the issues of race relations. Once again I find that children are better with these things than adults. My ever perceptive son loved the idea that doing the thing that was wrong (culturally and legally) was really the right thing to do. Both my children adored Huck, as played by Randy Scholz. His naivety was both endearing and believable as was his internal conflict to choose the right path.
If you’ve never visited the Issaquah location, it is a great little theater in a fabulous spot. I would recommend going early for lunch or dinner and then walking to the theater. Parking is at a premium, and can be quite tricky. Be sure to check out their website before you go for the map that shows nearby locations for both free and paid parking. While Twain’s original story can be difficult for young readers, I am thankful to the Village Theatre for making Huck’s story accessible for my kids and the kids of the greater Seattle area.
If You Go...
Where: Village Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, and the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett.
When: Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m., and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Now through Nov. 18.
Cost: $22 - $63, military receives a 10 percent discount, groups of ten or more receive a 20 percent discount. Season tickets are also available, as this is the first show in the season.
Contact: www.villagetheatre.org or 425-392-2202.