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Big River (musical)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a musical with music and lyrics by Roger Miller, and a book by William Hauptman.

Based on Mark Twain's classic 1884 novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it features music in the bluegrass and country styles in keeping with the setting of the novel. The 1985 Broadway production ran for more than 1,000 performances and it remained one of the few very successful American musicals in the mid-1980s among the emerging successes coming from Great Britain. Big River won 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.[1]

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • BIG RIVER 1985 Tony Awards
  • Big River Act 1
  • Encores! Big River highlights
  • Big River Takes the Stage With Kyle Scatliffe, Nicholas Barasch, and More
  • Acting Out Theatre Company - Big River Part 1



The first productions were staged by the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in February 1984[2] and at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California, from June through July 1984.[3]

The Broadway production, directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Janet Watson, opened on April 25, 1985 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, and closed on September 20, 1987, running for 1,005 performances. The cast featured René Auberjonois as The Duke, Bob Gunton as The King, John Goodman as Pap Finn, Daniel H. Jenkins as Huckleberry Finn, Ron Richardson as Jim, with Susan Browning, Gordon Connell as Mark Twain, Patti Cohenour, Jennifer Leigh Warren as Alice's Daughter and John Short.

A critically acclaimed[4] revival, directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun, opened on Broadway on July 24, 2003 at the American Airlines Theatre, where it ran for 67 performances and 28 previews. This production, produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company and Deaf West Theatre, was notable in that it featured both deaf and hearing actors performing together. About half the characters, including the leading role of Huck, were played by deaf or hard-of-hearing performers. All dialogue and lyrics in the production were both spoken or sung and signed, making the production equally accessible to hearing and deaf audiences.[5] The character of Mark Twain was expanded, so that that actor (Daniel H. Jenkins, who portrayed the role of Huck in the original Broadway cast) also provided the voice of Huck, portrayed by Tyrone Giordano, who is deaf.

It was remounted for a U.S. tour, which ran from June 11, 2004, to May 31, 2005, and included most of the Broadway cast,[6] and was nominated for several regional awards. A production ran at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. from March 18 to June 4, 2005.

Goodspeed Musicals staged a production of the musical at the East Haddam, Connecticut theater. The production was directed by Rob Ruggiero and ran from September 26 to November 29, 2008.[7][8]

The Encores! staged concert opened on February 8, 2017, and ran to February 12, 2017. The production was directed by Lear deBessonet and starred Kyle Scatliffe as Jim, Nicholas Barasch as Huckleberry Finn, Christopher Sieber as the Duke, Lauren Worsham as Mary Jane Wilkes and David Pittu as The King.[9]


An Australian production starring Cameron Daddo as Huckleberry Finn, Jon English as Pap Finn, John Bell as The Duke and featuring Venetta Fields and Michael Edward Stevens opened in 1989 at Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney. It also played Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, with Marcia Hines, as well as Festival Theatre in Adelaide.


Act One

In pre-Civil War Missouri, near St. Petersburg, the vagabond child Huckleberry Finn describes the events by which he and Tom Sawyer had discovered a fortune. Huck has been adopted by the Widow Douglas and her unmarried sister Miss Watson, and his guardians, Judge Thatcher, Huck's best friend Tom Sawyer, and practically the entire town inform Huck that he needs to learn to read and write and read the Bible if he ever hopes to go to Heaven ("Do Ya Wanna Go To Heaven?"). The only one who does not attempt to pass judgment on Huck is Miss Watson's slave, Jim, who predicts that he will lead a life of "considerable trouble and considerable joy". Exasperated with the constraints on his daily life, Huck escapes his bedtime and steals away to Tom Sawyer's "hideout", an old cave. In the cave, Tom, Huck and a group of their friends plan to form a band of robbers who will rampage around the countryside ("The Boys").

Huck, on his way home, thinks about the confines of his life and his wish that he will find meaning in his life. ("Waitin' For the Light To Shine") Huck returns home in the darkness to find his Pap, a violent drunk, waiting for him, who drags him off to his cabin in the woods. In his drunkenness, Pap swings from tomfoolery to extreme violence as he rails against a government that would take his son (and his son's money) away from him ("Guv'ment"). Pap attempts to kill Huck, hallucinating that he is the Angel of Death, but passes out in an inebriated mess. The next day Pap goes off to trade and Huck takes the opportunity to escape. He kills a pig and scatters the blood and gore around the cabin in an effort to make it appear as if he's been murdered. Huck reflects that this is just the sort of thing Tom Sawyer would do, and Tom appears to sing a vaudeville-style turn about the usefulness of hogs ("Hand For the Hog").

Huck flees to the nearby Jackson's Island, where he, alone, asserts his self-assurance ("I, Huckleberry, Me"). But Huck is not alone; Miss Watson's slave, Jim, is there as well. He has run away to avoid being sold down the River to New Orleans. Despite his unease with the concept of abolitionism Huck offers to help Jim reach freedom in the North. A posse is after Jim: with only moments to spare, they find a raft and get it afloat in the mighty Mississippi River ("Muddy Water").

Jim and Huck travel only at night and don't get far from Jackson's Island before they are reminded of the seriousness of their actions: a boat carrying runaway slaves back to their masters passes them in the night ("The Crossing"). The days are long as the two forge their way down the river. They pass a flooded house, and a dead man floating in the water that Jim will not let Huck look at. As they sing of the beauty of the River ("River In the Rain") in a fog, they sail past the mouth of the Ohio — their path to freedom. Soon after, they pick up two drifters who commandeer the small raft as they escape the latest mob on their tail. The con men claim to be a Duke and a King, the long lost heirs to the Duchy of Bridgewater and the French Throne. Huck is intrigued by the delinquent "royals". The King and the Duke commandeer the raft and plot to sell Jim back into slavery for their own profit, unbeknownst to Huck ("When the Sun Goes Down In the South").

Act Two

Huck, Jim, the Duke, and the King wash ashore in Bricktown, Arkansas, and attempt to fleece the rubes they find. The Duke and King come up with a scheme to make money ("The Royal Nonesuch"), tricking the townspeople. By the end of the evening, Huck can appreciate a new way of life — the three are now several hundred dollars richer. When he returns to the raft, Huck plays a horrible trick on Jim by assuming the guise of a slave hunter. Unamused, Jim rebukes Huck for the first time. After some thought, Huck realizes that Jim, though a slave, is still a human being and deserves an apology ("Worlds Apart").

The King and Duke reappear to dragoon Huck into their next escapade. While Jim is, again, left alone with the raft, the three encounter a young fool on a dock, singing of his love of his home state ("Arkansas"). Through no fault of his own, he tells the con men everything they need to know about a fortune to be inherited in the Wilkes family, and they crash the funeral as impostors to go about securing their riches ("How Blest We Are"). Huck — through it all a pure soul — sees that the beautiful and innocent Mary Jane Wilkes is being robbed of her rightful inheritance by these "rapscallions", and steals back her money from the King and the Duke as she mourns her father's coffin ("You Oughta Be Here With Me"). He quickly stuffs the gold into her father's coffin and hides behind it to avoid notice.

When Mary Jane realizes what Huck has done, she asks that he remain with her and become her friend. For the first time in his life, he is moved by the actions of another ("Leavin's Not the Only Way To Go"), yet he realizes that he has made a promise to Jim: one that transcends mere friendship. Huck returns again to the raft and finds the Duke tarred and feathered: he has sold Jim back into slavery for a mere forty dollars. Feeling guilty about what he has done, Huck pens a letter to Miss Watson, telling her where she can find the runaway Jim. After a momentary reprieve, Huck ends up feeling worse than ever. He tears up the letter and resolves to free Jim again, even if it means he will go to Hell ("Waiting For the Light To Shine" (Reprise)).

Huck visits Mr. Phelps, the farmer to whom Jim has been sold, and is shocked to discover that he has been mistaken for Tom Sawyer, the Phelps' nephew who is expected for a visit. Tom arrives later and is intercepted by Huck before he reaches the farm. Huck explains everything and Tom, delighted by the prospect for a grand adventure, decides to help Huck free Jim from his captors while pretending to be his own brother Sid. They find Jim imprisoned in a tiny cell and work to free him as he laments his desire to be free ("Free At Last"). Progress is slowed by Tom's insistence of making sure that the circumstances of the escape match the adventure novels he has read, which includes notifying Phelps of the escape by an anonymous letter. As they free Jim, Tom is shot in the leg. Jim sacrifices his freedom to ensure Tom gets a doctor, and is about to be locked up again when Tom admits that Miss Watson has died, freeing Jim in her will.

Jim decides to continue his trek to the North so that he may buy his family out of slavery, and Huck decides to continue westwards to escape any attempts to "civilize" him. They sit for a moment at the banks of the river, recalling their adventures together ("River In the Rain" (Reprise)). Jim reveals to Huck that the body they saw in the water was the dead body of Huck's Pap. Jim leaves Huck alone for the last time, and Huck decides, "It was like the fortune Jim predicted long ago: considerable trouble and considerable joy." He begins his next journey ("Muddy Water" (Reprise)).

Songs and original cast

Original 1985 production's cast

Awards and nominations

Original Broadway production

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1985 Tony Award Best Musical Won
Best Book of a Musical William Hauptman Won
Best Original Score Roger Miller Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Ron Richardson Won
Daniel H. Jenkins Nominated
René Auberjonois Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Des McAnuff Won
Best Scenic Design Heidi Landesman Won
Best Costume Design Patricia McGourty Nominated
Best Lighting Design Richard Riddell Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actor in a Musical Ron Richardson Won
Daniel H. Jenkins Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical René Auberjonois Won
John Short Nominated
Bob Gunton Nominated
John Goodman Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Patti Cohenour Nominated
Outstanding Orchestrations Steven Margoshes and Danny Troob Won
Outstanding Lyrics Roger Miller Won
Outstanding Music Nominated
Outstanding Set Design Heidi Landesman Won
Outstanding Costume Design Patricia McGourty Won
Outstanding Lighting Design Richard Riddell Won
Theatre World Award Patti Cohenour Won

2003 Broadway revival

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2004 Tony Award Best Revival of a Musical Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Michael McElroy Nominated
Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival of a Musical Nominated
Outstanding Actor in a Musical Tyrone Giordano Nominated
Michael McElroy Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Musical Jeff Calhoun Nominated

Feature film adaptation

On January 16, 2024, producers of the original stage musical and Roger Miller's widow Mary Miller hired Douglas Lyons to write a screenplay for a feature film adaptation.[10]


  1. ^ Kenrick, John (2014). "Stage Musicals 1980s - Part 2". Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  2. ^ Plotkins, Marilyn (2005). The American Repertory Theatre Reference Book. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 44. ISBN 0-313-28913-1.
  3. ^ "Production History". La Jolla Playhouse. Archived from the original on July 15, 2008.
  4. ^ Murray, Matthew (July 24, 2003). "Broadway Review: Big River". Talkin' Broadway.
  5. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (July 24, 2003). "Deaf West's Big River Shines on Broadway as Roundabout Revival Opens, July 24". Playbill.
  6. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (April 5, 2004). "Broadway's Huck, Twain and Jim Join Calhoun for Big River Tour, Launching June 11 in CA". Playbill. Retrieved March 14, 2022.
  7. ^ The Hartford Courant, Frank Rizzo, 10/1/07
  8. ^ Hood, Susan (October 19, 2008). "'Big River' Revival Rings True". Hartford Courant. Archived from the original on February 11, 2017.
  9. ^ Clement, Olivia (February 8, 2017). "Encores! Staging of Big River Kicks Off Feb. 8". Playbill. Retrieved March 14, 2022.
  10. ^ Lang, Brent (January 16, 2024). "'Big River' Movie Adaptation in the Works From 'Chicken and Biscuits' Writer Douglas Lyons (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved January 31, 2024.

External links

This page was last edited on 2 June 2024, at 04:03
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