I made my first (ever) trip to Sheffield Lake this weekend to see True North’s production of Big River: The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. The story takes place in the 1840′s along the Mississippi River Valley as Huck sets out on the river with his slave friend Jim for the free states in the north.
The first thing that grabbed me as I walked into the intimate performance space was the incredible staging and use of space. The main stage was a custom built thrust painted to look like water, it flowed onto a beautiful hand painted (?) backdrop of the river. The sets, complete with moving raft, designed by director Patrick Ciamacco, combined with the lighting and sound to create a very immersive environment right at the overture. The music in this version of Big River was especially good. Musical Director Heidi Herczeg did a fantastic job in this respect as the music seemed very period accurate. For a relatively small production I was amazed at the large number of actors in the show. The ensemble dance numbers were especially good thanks to the brilliant choreography by Kristy Cruz. The foot work and level of synchronization was nothing short of incredible.
As the story began to unfold I was immediately taken aback by the level of talent in this show. Douglas F. Bailey II (Near West’s Urinetown: The Musical) excelled in the role of Huck Finn and harmonized perfectly with co-star Darryl Lewis (Jim) on all of the musical numbers. Their chemistry was perfect and carried the story through the more heartfelt moments. Lewis amazed me with his versatility. After all the last time I saw him on stage, he was running around in a diaper as Jesus in Beck Center’s Jerry Springer The Opera. He brought an amazing amount of life to the character of Jim, his acting prowess, love-able nature and haunting vocals are not to be missed.
Dana Hart (Pap) had me crying from laughter with the show stealing “Guv’ment.” We see Hart again later on as The King and see a complete other side of this versatile actor. George Carpenter plays the mischievous Tom Sawyer and blows the roof off the venue with oddly placed but hilarious “Hand For The Hog.” I’m not sure if the role was written this way, but Carpenter cracked himself up throughout the entire number…I blame the stuffed pig.
A quick word of warning, anyone familiar with Mark Twain’s work is aware that there is profanity in this story, primarily the ‘N word.’ If that is a deal breaker for you, then skip this show. I didn’t find it offensive but a parent might have a different opinion. Having said that, I give this show a 9 out of 10. As someone told me recently, “There is always room for improvement,” but not much in this case. This show is good enough to play a much larger venue, Playhouse Square anyone?
Ciamacco’s musicians, actors and crew have put together a wonderful piece of American theatre that is without question worthy of your time and hard earned money. At $12.50 pre-sale and $15 at the door, you will not be disappointed. Head out to Sheffield Lake this weekend and prepare to take a journey down the Mississippi without leaving your seat.
Big River closes this weekend, so get your tickets now at TNCArts.com!