BIG RIVER: THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Director Marc Robin’s rendition of Roger Miller and William Hauptman’s 1985 Broadway hit (the show’s second local production this season is a winning revival with a rich emotional texture one doesn’t usually associate with dinner theater. Robin and his cast capture both the exuberant humor and the dark side of Mark Twain’s classic: the horror of slavery, the pain of poverty, the human capacity for cruelty, and the anger and hurt that sometimes color the characters’ friendships. Robin’s in-the-round staging skillfully sketches the shifting relationships among the raffish Huck Finn; Jim, the runaway slave Huck helps escape; the King and the Duke, two con men who join Huck and Jim as they raft down the Mississippi; Mary Jane, the pretty heiress whom Huck saves from the crooks’ scam; and Huck’s irrepressible, foolhardy chum Tom Sawyer, who nearly gets Huck, Jim, and himself killed in his elaborate attempt to free Jim from bondage.
The actors are excellent: Jeff Juday as Huck, Derek J. Alexander as Jim, Don Forston and James Harms as the King and the Duke, Susie McMonagle as Mary Jane, and the delightful Ian Brennan as Tom. Their credible characterizations steer clear of stereotype, giving weight to Twain’s story of a boy’s coming-of-age. Miller’s marvelous country-gospel score is solidly played by a first-rate band; Steve Winkler’s harmonica and fiddle add enormously to a thoroughly satisfying evening of musical theater.