With its infectious music and heapin’ helpin’ of comedy, Big River is a broader, somewhat sunnier take on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” penned by the great Mark Twain. But the Tony-winning musical nurtured more than 30 years ago at La Jolla Playhouse is fairly faithful to Twain’s classic tale. Big River is big news for Carlsbad’s New Village Arts Theatre, which has mounted a crowd-pleasing production of the show written by William Hauptman with lyrics and music by the late Roger (“Dang Me”) Miller. Big River is also a big sit, lasting well over two and a half hours, but it’s largely time well spent.
Director Colleen Kollar Smith’s cast is highlighted by Bryan Barbarin as Jim, the slave longing to be free, with Reed Lievers as a winning if too well scrubbed Huck. Spouses Manny and Melissa Fernandes practically take over with their antics as the grifters who scam their way aboard Huck and Jim’s raft. But it’s Jon Lorenz’s musical direction and a rousing six-piece band onstage that could make Twain, at his most cynical, smile.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat