Huckleberry Finn comes to life on stage in Village Theatre’s ‘Big River’
September 4, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
The re-imagining of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” — “Big River” — sets the seminal novel to music and transports the landmark trip down the Mississippi River to the Village Theatre stage.
“Big River” debuted on Broadway in 1985, ran for more than 1,000 performances and earned Tony Awards aplenty. The show opens the 2012-13 Village Theatre season Sept. 12.
“We’re always looking for something to kick off the season that is exciting, to get people out of the beautiful September Seattle weather and get them into the theater,” Resident Music Director Tim Symons said. “‘Big River’ is a piece that’s so beautiful and all the music is in it is so gorgeous.”
The cast pairs a veteran, Rodney Hicks, and a newcomer, Randy Scholz, in the lead roles.
The role of Jim in “Big River” offers Hicks — a veteran of “Rent” and “The Scottsboro Boys” on Broadway — a chance to educate audiences about a turbulent period in history.
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“There’s a lot to be said about looking back to where we came from and how we got to where we are,” he said.
(Hicks, 38, is also a regular presence on NBC, as a recurring character in the supernatural police drama “Grimm.”)
The creators added some Broadway bravado to the country score, but Symons is more interested in a straightforward style. So, he shifted some pieces from orchestral instruments to fiddle and harmonica.
“What my focus has been on in this production is to really focus on the country,” he said.
Onstage during the production, musicians play a panoply of instruments. Symons stationed some band members in the orchestra pit.
The staging of musicians onstage “really groups the cast and the orchestra together,” Symons said. “We always have a great company vibe between the cast and the band, but ultimately, when you’re performing, you don’t see each other at all. You’re on different floors of the building — you’re so far apart.”
Still, despite the musical’s pedigree and the familiarity of Twain’s characters, “Big River” is not performed often. Hicks and Scholz, 25, leapt at the chance to portray monumental figures from American literature.
“This show would just not work if it was a cartoon in any way,” Scholz said. “There’s so much heart and there’s so much realness and depth in this story.”