Big River

Roger Miller's musical adaptation of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn was a Broadway hit in the '80s, and I predict it's headed to the pantheon of beloved American musicals. Director Steve Tomkins has taken a largely unseasoned cast, trained them well, and let them rip. The sense of ensemble is both palpable and infectious. It's not slickness that sells these songs, it's heart, and this cast has that by the truckload. The score, rendered expertly by Tim Symons, includes country ballads, spirituals, a slew of bluegrass sing-alongs, Broadway showstoppers, and a pair of anthems. If, playing Huck, Randy Scholz occasionally tilts toward an American Idol-ish sales approach, hitting notes not required by the score, well, fine. As Jim, Rodney Hicks as a voice that could fill a cathedral. "Free at Last" is one of the great showtunes of the last 30 years, and for Hicks, it's the perfect vehicle--crisp and gorgeous even in its soft early moments. Likewise, David Anthony Lewis makes for a loopy and wonderful Pap, and John David Scott puts just the right spin of nimble physicality on his role as Tom Sawyer. Big River will always be revived because Twain's source tale is so powerful (and again timely during this election season). Huck grows into a man because he comes to understand--despite his segregated upbringing--that the similarities among Americans are far greater than the differences between us. (Runs Wed.-Sun. Ends Oct. 21. Then Everett Performing Art Center: Oct. 26-Nov. 18.) KEVIN PHINNEY [See Kevin's full review.]

Wednesdays-Sundays. Starts: Sept. 12. Continues through Oct. 21, 2012

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