Published Date Written by Mike MortensenMEREDITH — The Winnipesaukee Playhouse regularly draws on American literary classics for its winter community theater productions. This year the production comes from one of the greatest American novels that has been adapted for the musical stage.
"Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," which opens a three-day run tonight at the Inter-Lakes High School Community Auditorium, is based on the Mark Twain classic, and features bluegrass and country music styles characteristic of places along the Mississippi River.
The Winni Playhouse's production of "Big River" is family entertainment, and not just in the sense that a musical setting of Twain's message of diversity, acceptance, respect and freedom appeals to youngsters and adults alike, but also in that its cast features a number of family groups — parents and their children performing on the same stage.
"It's a bonding experience," said Elizabeth Rohdenberg of Meredith who is in the production along with her son, Rudy Beer. For Rudy, a fifth-grader at Inter-Lakes Elementary School, this is his fourth time performing in a Winni Playhouse program. However, it marks his mother's first time on stage. "I said (to Rudy), 'Let's try to get a bit part together."
Ben Kace has the lead role of Huck and Bruce Smith plays the runaway slave, Jim, in the two-act play.
With a 40-member cast, "Big River" is the largest-scale show Winni Playhouse has done since it was founded nine years ago, according to Lesley Pankhurst, the theater's marketing director who is also in the production manager. Pankhurst's husband, Neil, is the show's director. Tara Little is in charge of choreography and Christine Chiasson is the music director for the Walter Hauptman-Roger Miller play, which opened on Broadway in 1985 and ran for 1,005 performances and won seven Tony Awards.
But it's the involvement of various family groups in the ensemble which make this show extra special, Lesley Pankhurst says. "We wanted an activity that people can do with their kids."
Like Sharona Bates and her 9-year-old daughter Kaira from Gilmanton. It was Kaira was the one who coaxed her mother to try out for the show. "I'll audition, but I want you to do it with me," Sharona recalls her daughter saying last fall when the casting call went out. Kaira has been performing most of her life. She began taking dance lessons when she was 3, and she is also takes violin lessons, her mother says.
Another family group is the Mitchell-Morris family of New Hampton. Jeremiah Morris, the father plays five different parts in the play including the very opening scene in which he plays the role of a father reading from "The Adventures of Huckleberry" to his daughter, portrayed by his real-life daughter Jubilee Mitchell-Morris. His son, Shiloh, and daughter, Calista are also in the show.
Tonight's show begins at 7 p.m. On Saturday there will be a matinee at 2 p.m. as well an evening performance at 7. The final show will be Sunday at 2 p.m. For ticket information visit www.winniplayhouse.org.