“Dang me”. “Dang Me”. Roger Miller would have been proud of the Wilmington Drama League's production of “Big River'. Miller, composer of “Dang Me” and “King of the Road”, ventured onto Broadway by setting his music to Twain's “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.
Community theatre is a training ground for young talent; nurturing aspiring actors and building people skills these kids learn to sculpt their character. In reading the individual credits in the program, I was struck by how many of the performers commented “...this cast is a blast. Thank you all.”
There were a few teenagers from this show who have the talent and drive to
Kevin Shotwell (Huck) has a sincere face and impressive acting ability and stage presence for a 17 year old in a major role. And, he can harmonize. That's difficult. “River In the Wind”, a haunting tune and certainly the most memorable, was evocative with Timothy Cannon, playing Jim, the runaway slave. Cannon was himself quite expressive in his rendition of “Free At Last.”
Matsy Stinson (Mary Jane Wilkes) is a high schooler going from one show to the next, building repetoire and experience. Her voice was quite strong but she shifted a bit too quickly emotionally in a scene at her father's funeral and the meeting with Huck.
Sam White (Young Fool) showed a dancing expertise not witnessed before and I see development in him as well. He mentioned in his credits that it was not a real stretch for him to play the part.
Paul Weagraff, as the very comical “Duke”, had an opportunity to exhibit his Shakespearean chops. Weagraff has been in every show ever staged...or so it seems.
Weagraff, whose daytime job is Director of the DE Division of the Arts, mentors novice actors.
If one recalls passages from this Great American book, the “N” word is used throughout. Director Deb Johnson stood tall and kept the text in tact. She assembled an interracial cast. In a scene between Huck and Jim, Huck is surprised that Jim is emotional about being separated from his family. Says Huck, “It didn't seem natural, niggers feeling the same as whites.”
Twain remarks on his take on racism: “ I have no color prejudices nor creed prejudices. All I care to know is that a man is a human being, and that is enough for me; it can't be any worse.”