Considerable fun at the Alhambra’s “Big River”

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By Martie Thompson
editor@floridanewsline.com

Jim foretold that Huckleberry Finn’s life would contain “considerable trouble and considerable joy,” but the telling of their tale provides considerable fun for audiences at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre’s production of the Tony Award-winning “Big River,” based on Mark Twain’s novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Dinner is a three course meal, offered by Chef DeJuan Roy in the style complementing the time period of the show. Start the meal with chicken gumbo and dirty rice and then take your pick from fried catfish with cheese grits or maple glazed chicken with black eyed peas. Stop counting the calories long enough to enjoy Mississippi Mud Pie for dessert. A specially designed drink menu includes an adult beverage called Muddy Waters, a reference to the mighty Mississippi River.

After the dinner, Mark Twain, portrayed by Erik DeCicco, comes out to introduce the play. Further narration is performed throughout the production by Huck Finn himself, just like in Twain’s novel.

Cameron Bartell portrays Huck Finn with just the right amount of wide-eyed wonder and false bravado. True to Twain’s novel, he boards a raft with escaped slave Jim, portrayed by James Webb, and the two bond over many shared experiences on the Mississippi River traveling north.

Webb’s rich vibrato is an auditory delight, especially on songs like “Muddy Water” and “River in the Rain.” The highlight of the show is the duet in the second act between Jim and Huck. Webb’s deep voice and Bartell’s dulcet tone harmonize well on “Worlds Apart,” where the characters learn that they have more in common than they think.

Also noteworthy is the impish performance by Benjamin Smith as Tom Sawyer, who pretty much steals each scene he is in with his mastery of physical comedy. Choreographer James Kinney, an alumnus from the Alhambra who has found much success on Broadway, keeps everything moving at a breathtaking pace — particularly group numbers like “The Boys,” featuring Tom and Huck.

Comic relief is provided by Larry Daggett and Erik DeCicco as the Duke and the King. “The Royal Nonesuch” is a rollicking and somewhat off-color interlude.

There aren’t many female roles in this production, but Jamilia Wells as Alice’s Daughter and Olivia Chernyshev as Mary Jane make the most of their solos in “How Blest We Are” and “You Oughta Be Here with Me.”

“Big River” will be performed through March 20. Visit www.alhambrajax.com to reserve tickets.

Photos courtesy Alhambra Dinner Theatre.

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The cast of “Big River”