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Theater Review: 'Big River'

"Big River” plays through May 15, 2016 at New Village Arts, 2787 State Street in Carlsbad.
Photo credit:
Shaun Hagen

“Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. By Order Of The Author.”                  

  -- Mark Twain

But of course, one can find all the above in Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the story of two ultimate outsiders trying to escape their mutually unsatisfying young lives and have a little excitement along the way.

It’s been more than 30 years since we first saw “Big River,” William Hauptmann and Roger Miller’s musical version, at La Jolla Playhouse. From there it went to Broadway, where it ran two years and won seven Tonys in 1985. Now a winning version is in our own backyard through May 15 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.

You remember the story: motherless Huck wants to escape repressive guardians Widow Douglas and Miss Watson and his alcoholic, abusive father Pap; Jim is a runaway slave, looking for freedom.

Miller’s music is mostly delightful, a combination of country, bluegrass and gospel sounds, from the upbeat, foot-stomping “Do You Wanna Go To Heaven” to Huck’s personal declaration “I, Huckleberry, Me” and  the lovely ballad “River In The Rain.”

Bryan Barbarin’s larger-than-life Jim anchors this fine, large cast, nicely aided by Reed Lievers as Huck and Zackary Scot Wolfe as Tom Sawyer.

Most of the other actors play multiple roles, including major scene stealers Melissa and Manny Fernandes, hilarious as (among other things) two clever grifters who want to hitch a ride on Huck and Jim’s raft.

Jon Lorenz gets a big shout-out for his musical direction, and so do his mighty half-dozen musicians.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 32 years since we saw this show at La Jolla Playhouse, but it’s really good to have Huck, Jim and Tom back.  And if NVA’s stage is a little small to convince us they’re paddling down the mighty Mississip, well, I’m sure Twain wouldn’t mind.

The Details

“Big River” plays through May 15, 2016 at New Village Arts, 2787 State Street in Carlsbad.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2:00 pm.

Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or www.newvillagearts.org

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.