Based on Mark Twain's timeless classic, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," the musical "Big River" drops audiences into the 1860s Old South, a dangerous, precarious time for both black slaves and young boys like Huck, whose only parent has deserted him.
Roger Miller, a country music icon from Oklahoma, wrote the Tony Award-winning score for "Big River," which also won six other Tonys in 1985. Many songs are a toe-tapping good time, such as "Do You Wanna Go to Heaven" and "Guv'ment."
Director James Hughes has guided his large ensemble in creating an energetic Old South. Guthrie High School's Sheridan McMichael is outstanding as Huck, lively and engaging. As Jim, Jerome Braggs is an engaging presence, making him real and likable without veering into sentimentality. Duets don't get any better than their river songs.
Huck's best buddy Tom Sawyer is also brought to life beautifully by Brandon Lonza. Jake DeTommaso and Doug Ford are fabulous rascals as The Duke and The King. Michael Edsel does a funny turn as lowbrow Silas Phelps, and Randy Lunsford brought cheers as Pap Finn.
The set is minimalist and functional, although the almost constantly dark-curtained background and flat front lighting sometimes threaten to suck the actors back into it, rather than creating a scrapbook-paged effect. The raft is all manual, rather than hydraulics, so there is (literally) some drag there. Michael James' 1800s costumes take the audience back to the Old South nicely.
An enthusiastic reception opening night confirmed that Oklahoma audiences certainly feel at home with "Big River."