‘Big River’ displays big talent

‘Big River’ displays big talentBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

As Burroughs High School junior Rhiannon O’Conner was belting out the ending of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” I had a strong suspicion she was going to steal the show.

While the number is not normally featured in the Huck Finn musical “Big River,” performed by BHS drama students last week at the Burroughs Performing Arts Center, the racially-charged song about the lynching of African Americans was a poignant prelude to the play.

But back to Miss O’Conner. I was surprised to see a female actor cast as Mark Twain’s character Jim. I was actually surprised to see females cast as the majority of the play’s male characters – but it in no way reflected negatively on the production.

All the leading ladies – Jenny Weik as Huck, O’Conner as Jim, Lilly Johnson as The King and Trinity Benitez as Duke – brought a collective energy and enthusiasm to the BHS stage that I haven’t seen for some years.

For those who aren’t familiar with “Big River,” the William Hauptman and Roger Miller broadway musical faithfully follows the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by American legend Mark Twain. And for those who aren’t familiar with “Huckleberry Finn,” shame on you.

Director Tristan Kratz’s placed a more modern spin on the story, with some of the characters appearing to be from the 1960s rather than the 1880s. When Huck’s friend Tom Sawyer (played excellently by junior Jacob Masner) came onto the scene in jeans, a white t-shirt and a leather jacket, I must say it wasn’t entirely clear to me where they were going with the theme.

It was when junior Azrielle Browning led the ensemble in “The Crossing,” against an emotional slo-mo backdrop of Million Man Marchers and counter protestors, that the modern theme really worked to convey that, though we have come far since the 1880s and the 1960s, America still struggles with racial inequality today.

Weik delivered a charming performance as the wiley Huck, while Johnson and Benitez were hilarious as the two con (wo)men. But it was O’Conner’s strong vocal abilities and emotional performance as the slave Jim that was a stand-out performance among many talented students.

Performances continue this week with 7 p.m. shows on Thursday and Friday, April 26 and 27. Tickets are available at Red Rock Books for $12 or at the door for $10.

Story First Published: 2018-04-27