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Pete Widtfeldt
Conlon Bonner, left, is Jim and Andrew Robertson is Huck in the Hale Center Theater Orem production of "Big River."

OREM — The director of the musical journey of Huckleberry Finn and an escaped slave down the Mississippi river says the music is gorgeous, the story is touching and the cast for Hale Center Theater Orem's show is multi-talented.

He's excited for Utah Valley audiences to see what's come together in "Big River."

"Huck is played by Andrew Robertson, a theater student at Utah Valley University. He is an incredibly winning performer who has such an irrepressible energy onstage," director Chris Clark said. "I'm excited to be working with him."

Jim is being played by Conlon Bonner, who recently played in Hale Center Theatre's "Ragtime" in West Valley City.

"He has a beautiful voice and a powerful stage presence," Clark said. "These two actors are truly the heart of the show. I love watching them perform together night after night."

Clark said the cast of 15 plays all of the roles in the musical.

"Children, adults, drunks, dogs, charlatans, widows, you name it," he said. "It is so exciting to watch this cast transform themselves every night into an entire community of characters. They are brilliant at it."

Given the small center stage at Hale Center Theater Orem, Clark and his set designers have been forced to create outside the box.

"Rather than a river, or the traditional book-framed background, we've created a stage that is surprising, functional and perfectly suited to this journey down the river," Clark said. "Hale Orem audiences have certainly never seen anything quite like it. And we're incorporating elements of mid-19th century theatrical stagecraft, so the show feels like a piece from another era."

What he loves most about the musical, Clark said, is the music.

"It's an early southern bluegrass score, and the harmonies are so beautiful," he said. "It really captures the essence of the Mississippi River Valley. Mark Twain's world really comes alive through each piece of music, and so do the themes of tolerance, acceptance, and forgiveness. It's very touching."

If you go ...

What: "Big River"

Where: Hale Center Theater Orem, 225 W. 400 North, Orem

When: Feb. 20-April 12 at 7:30 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 3 p.m.

How much: $16-$21 for adults and $12-$16 for children

Tickets: 801-226-8600 or haletheater.org

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