'Big River:' Huck Finn story coming to Bay View stage July 26-27
Baritone Nick Davis, a master's student at University of Michigan in voice, portrays the role of Jim, Huck's friend, in the Bay View production of "Big River." (Courtesy photo/John Agria / July 18, 2013)
When it was released, "Big River" garnered 12 Tony Awards, including best musical. "Big River" is a tune-filled, poignant and humorous story of adolescence, racism, community, friendship and the search for a better life. The plot is simple and follows the book read by millions over the years since Twain wrote "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."
Twain's timeless classic sweeps down the mighty Mississippi as the irrepressible Huck Finn helps his friend Jim, a slave, escape to freedom at the mouth of the Ohio River. Their adventures along the way bring to life favorite characters from the novel -- the Widow Douglas and her stern sister, Miss Watson, the uproarious King and Duke, who may or may not be as harmless as they seem, Huck's partner in crime, Tom Sawyer, and their rowdy gang of pals, Huck's drunken father, the sinister Pap Finn, and the lovely Mary Jane Wilkes and her trusting family.
Chris Ludwa, artistic director of the Bay View Music Festival, and Jim Haffner, stage director for "Big River," offer their perspectives on the show.
"I fell in love with this show in middle school when we performed selections from it in our end of year concert," Ludwa said. "The music was infectious, bouncy, sometimes edgy and driving. To hear a spiritual like "Free At Last" in the context of a show centered around a slave seeking freedom was such a compelling thing to a middle school boy who doubted the coolness of most things.
"The song 'River in the Rain' was also beautiful, touching and serene. And then there was The Boys, a gang of kids, like me, singing about raising a ruckus and doing all the things kids like to do as they are moving into adulthood.
"It's been my dream to produce this show ever since ... ," Ludwa concluded.
Haffner said he fell in love with the show as a sophomore in high school.
"Truly one of my coming-of-age musicals alongside 'Les Miserables' and 'Phantom of the Opera,'" Haffner said. "This piece was special though as it was the first vocal selections score -- and one of the first LP original cast recordings -- I purchased with my own money.
"I played Tom soon thereafter and have performed 'Hand for the Hog' at parties, receptions, benefit recitals, etc. over a hundred times. The music is wonderfully nogalstic and I am thrilled to be able to have this opportunity to share such a wonderful score, performed by a dedicated and talented cast, with the Bay View community this summer," Haffner concluded.
For "Big River" ticket information, call (800) 595-4849 or visit www.bayviewfestival.org.