Stage review: 'Big River' at Hale Center Theater Orem is well done

Published: Monday, Feb. 24 2014 3:42 p.m. MST

Updated: Monday, Feb. 24 2014 3:42 p.m. MST

Riding the raft down the MIssissippi is Conlon Bonner as Jim and Andrew Robertson as Huck Finn in Hale Center Theater Orem's production of "Big River."

Pete Widtfeldt

Enlarge photo»

"BIG RIVER," Hale Center Theater Orem, 225 West 400 North, Orem, through April 12, 3 p.m. Saturday matinees, 7:30 p.m. nightly except Sundays, $19-$21 (haletheater.org or 801-226-8600); running time 2 hours 45 minutes (one intermission)

OREM — Wow!

Hale Center Theater Orem's production of "Big River" got everything right in its version of this classic story of Huck Finn and Jim, an escaped slave, making their way down the muddy Mississippi.

The music is wonderfully directed by Justin Bills and sung well. "River in the Rain," "Hand For the Hog," "Muddy Waters" and "The Royal Nonesuch" are all songs that live on long after the curtain call.

The actors are excellent with several standouts: Andrew Robertson as an engaging Huck; Conlon Bonner as the desperate Jim; Daniel Fenton Anderson as Huck's mean, drunken, dancing-with-a-hip-swivel Pap; and an ensemble cast with each person playing at least three different roles, and doing each very well.

The Duke, played by Steve Dunford, and the King, played by Jacob Theo Squire, are comic and fun to watch as fraudulent showmen.

The set is extraordinary, a round "river" in the middle of Hale's postage-stamp-size floor. It's versatile and clever. It turns. Pieces open up. One part lifts out to become a casket and sinks back down as if it's really buried at the end of the funeral.

The moving raft on the "river" can handle a real deluge as well. (Be aware: The actors get soaked, as does the front row of patrons.)

The whole show is entertaining and one that has heartfelt dialogue, a moving story based on historical injustice and yet plenty of humor.

The staging is well thought out.

Having live musicians on board throughout adds a great deal. (Some even bark at the appropriate times.)

The props are fun, sometimes whimsical (a huge stuffed catfish filled with essential items for a river trip, a toy pig and rag ribbons, a hand-held window and a shimmying pole that just appears), props that somehow still work in the midst of a story about loss and slavery.

The costuming is interesting, especially that of the completely covered but still flashy "tarts."

Director Chris Clark has done an admirable job setting this show up in the Hale Center Theater without the benefit of a backstage or curtains to close. He's blocked it creatively and cast it well.

It ought to be on everyone's must-see list.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@deseretnews.com

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