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September 7, 2003

First-rate, talented cast makes 'Big River' a hit

From: Charleston Post Courier, SC - Sept 7, 2003


Post and Courier Reviewer

The 1985 Broadway hit "Big River, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," adapted by William Hauptman from the Mark Twain novel with music and lyrics by Roger Miller, won many Toni awards and is currently playing in New York, performed by the deaf.

In the Charleston Stage Production at the Dock Street Theatre, handsomely directed by Julian Wiles, the actors react to one another rather than act. This is what theater should be, thus Wiles succeeds beautifully with a most talented cast.

Aided by Stefanie Christensen's simple, effective sets, Barbara Young's costumes, Christensen's and Wiles' creative lighting, and Wendell Smith's musical direction, the three hour piece is full of toe tapping songs, plus blues and gospel. The shining light is Lindsey Lamb's exciting choreography.

This is Huck Finn's story, magnificently narrated by the character.

The Huck role is handled with seeming joy and ease by Ben Ryan. Tom Sawyer, Drew Archer, is excellent as well, and there is the needed chemistry between the two. Archer is animated and convincing, and his song, "Hand for the Hog," is a hit.

As Jim, the escaped slave, Stacey Robinson has a powerful voice and puts his songs across dramatically, yet seems to hold back.

His rendition of "Free At Last" in Act II is touching, and, as Huck sums it up, "Human beings can be so cruel to one another."

Lee Blackwell's Pop Finn is a hoot playing Huck's drunken father, and his funny song, "Gov'ment," about politicians' hands in citizens' pockets is apropos today.

There is simply not enough space to mention all the fine performances, but look for "Annie" redux. Fifth-grader Laura Blackwell, who plays Joanna and the Strange Woman's daughter is none other than the leading lady in last year's production of that show.

The 45 characters plus the eight members of the Gospel Choir are swimmingly first-rate. What is more, they all appear to enjoy themselves and each other. This floats across the footlights and makes for an enjoyable evening for all ages.

The name of the game here is talent with a capital T.

The show repeats on Sept. 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19 and 20.

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