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Review Roundup: BIG RIVER Opens the 2017 Season at Encores!


First up in Encores! 2017 season is Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Tony Award-winning musical based on Mark Twain's classic American novel. Big River will star Nicholas Barasch, Patrice Covington, Andrew Cristi, Wayne Duvall, Mike Evariste, Charlie Franklin, Annie Golden, Katherine A. Guy, Megan Masako Haley, Adrianna Hicks, Zachary Infante, Gizel Jimenez, Andrew Kruep, John-Michael Lyles, Cass Morgan, Tom Nelis, David Pittu, Tom Alan Robbins, Horace V. Rogers, Kyle Scatliffe, Christopher Sieber, and Lauren Worsham.

The Encores! production will be directed by Lear deBessonet with musical direction by Encores! Music Director Rob Berman and choreography by Josh Rhodes.

A musical underdog as scrappy and restless as Huck himself, Big River was created in the age of British spectacles by a quintessentially American artist-the beloved country-western singer Roger Miller-and his Tony Award-winning score is a scintillating blend of bluegrass, gospel, and honky tonk. More than thirty years later, Big River remains an affecting journey through 1840s America in all its beauty and savagery.

Let's see what the critics had to say!

Laura Collins Hughes, The New York Times: Part dare, part warning, a written notice from Mark Twain hangs over the stage as the curtain rises on "Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," at New York City Center: "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 will be shot." If, however, you are looking for a Huckleberry of irresistible sweetness and rambunctious naïveté - and, lucky for you, Twain makes no threats in that regard - then Lear deBessonet's buoyant Encores! production is the place to find him.

Jesse Green, Vulture: It might be possible to enjoy the musical Big River by squinting. It is, after all, based on Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, whose main events - Huck's escape from his Pap, Jim's escape from slavery - are neatly miniaturized in William Hauptman's stage adaptation. Seventeen pleasant American vernacular songs by Roger Miller ("King of the Road") aptly reference country, bluegrass, gospel, and rockabilly. (There's plenty of fiddling from the orchestra, which also features harmonica and Jew's harp.) Now even more than when it first appeared on Broadway in 1985, its overall feel-good sentiment about the possibility of happy endings to the story of race in America would seem to be welcome. And yet if you are even a little bit alert to the questions raised in the intervening 32 years about tokenism and cultural appropriation, you will not be able to watch Big River without squirming. It has approximately the same moral seriousness about race as a lawn jockey does.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: The Encores! production of Big River is, in a word, perfect. And, in a few other words, moving, powerful and exhilarating. This 1985 musical adaptation of The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn marked the Broadway triumph of the great songwriter Roger Miller, teamed here with fellow Texan William Hauptman, who wrote the book. A fine, gorgeously designed show, it won a boatload of Tonys, including Best Musical. Miller, who died in 1992, won for a score suffused with his wicked pop-country sensibility while stretching his talent with Broadway-worthy ballads, choral numbers and roof-raisers. It was followed by a memorable 2003 Roundabout Theatre Company revival originated by Deaf West Theatre.

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