“Big River,” the first show ever performed on the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall stage will return in a special 10th season performance at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22, 23 and 25, 8 p.m. Feb. 24, and 2 p.m. Feb. 26 as the Rhodes 101 Stops and Commerce Bank Theatre and Dance Series continues at Southeast Missouri State University’s River Campus.
“‘Big River’ was the smash-hit inaugural production at the River Campus in 2007,” said Dr. Kenneth Stilson, chair of The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance. “Kicking off the season for spring 2017, this Tony Award-winning Broadway musical promises to build on the success of our original production and deliver an evening of theatre that will be remembered by audiences for years to come.”
Mark Twain’s timeless classic sweeps us down the mighty Mississippi with the irrepressible Huckleberry Finn and his new friend Jim. While Huck continues his reckless, adventure-loving ways, his alcoholic and violent father, Pap, demands custody over the boy. Unable to prevent Pap from taking Huck, the Judge forces Huck to comply. Fearing for his life, Huck takes off on a raft down the Mississippi River.
Along the way, he meets up with a runaway slave Jim, who is trying to find his wife and children up north. Soon Huck and Jim gain two new compatriots, the Duke and the King, who are really escaped convicts. After a series of adventures and a reunion with his best friend Tom Sawyer, Huck discovers that Jim’s slave-owner died and freed Jim in her will. Thus, Jim is free to find his wife and children on his own and Huck decides to move out West, where no one can civilize him.
Their adventures along the way are hilarious, suspenseful, and heartwarming, bringing to life your favorite characters from the novel.
Highlighting this year’s production are several distinguished performers and designers. This special production celebrates the final curtain call for Southeast’s own Judith Farris, artist in residence and vocal director in The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance, before her retirement in May. Farris was the vocal coach for the inaugural production of “Big River” 10 years ago, and says that the revival “feels right” as her final show at Southeast. Farris is a renowned contralto artist and voice instructor who became a full-time faculty member at Southeast in August 2005 as an artist in residence and instructor. She teaches musical theatre courses; collaborates with dance and theatre faculty on musical theatre productions and recitals; and has performed with the Southeast Missouri Symphony Orchestra.
She also teaches master classes for University students and regional high schools; coaches both music theatre majors and non-singers for theatrical singing roles; and helps students land internships. She also has taught many of New York’s finest singers. A Cape Girardeau native, Farris is a 1971 graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, where she majored in voice and earned a bachelor’s degree in music education.
Another Cape Girardeau native, Brodrick Twiggs, will be a featured guest artist in “Big River,” playing the role of Jim. Twiggs is well known in southeast Missouri. He and his former Cape Central choir teacher, Mike Dumey, have collaborated for the past decade in multiple shows throughout the community and abroad. Twiggs, a 2016 graduate of Southeast, has performed at many benefits, concerts, and events such as the Governor’s Inaugural Ball along with the Jerry Ford Orchestra.
The role of Mark Twain will once again be played by Lester Goodin, whose talent captivated audiences a decade ago and will once again fill the Bedell Performance Hall with his spry and realistic performance. Goodin, a native of Cape Girardeau, has lived in various cities across the southern United States. He bears a strong resemblance to the beloved author, but Goodin believes he plays Twain well because they share a love of southern river culture. Goodin has previously portrayed Twain in the River City Players Follies and other venues around southeast Missouri.
The revival production of “Big River” will also highlight the skill of musician Sandy Weltman who is an internationally acclaimed harmonica player. Two local children, Gio Wubanna and Peighton Robinson will also be featured in the cast.
The costumes for “Big River” have been designed by Bill Black, a 1975 graduate of Southeast. Black is a professional designer whose costumes have appeared in numerous productions across the United States. He teaches costume design at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and is the resident professional at Knoxville’s Clarence Brown Theatre Company, as well as the senior designer at the world-renowned Utah Shakespeare Festival. He is a two-time winner of the John F. Kennedy medallion from the American College Theatre Festival and a past recipient of the Southeast Missouri State University Alumni Merit Award.
“We are very proud of our star-studded cast” said Stilson. “’Big River’ promises to showcase the best of our River Campus.”
Tickets may be purchased by contacting the River Campus Box Office, located in the Cultural Arts Center, 518 S. Fountain St., weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., by calling (573) 651-2265, or online at RiverCampus.org/big-river.