‘Big River’ musical playing at Frost FireThe 27th annual show opens Saturday near Walhalla, N.D.
If you go
• What: “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” based on a story by Mark Twain, with book by William Hauptman and music and lyrics by Roger Miller.
• Opens: Saturday with shows at 2 and 6 p.m. at Frost Fire Amphitheatre, seven miles west of Walhalla, N.D., on County Road 55.
• Other 2 p.m. shows: July 10, 13, 16, 17, 20, 23, 24, 27, 30 and 31.
• Other 6 p.m. shows: July 16, 23, 30.
• Tickets: Adults, $26; children, $12; group rates available; food service available before each performance. Go to www.frostfiretheatre.com or call (701) 549-3600.
• Cast: Walter Criswell, Patrick DeMars, Carly Flaagen, Luke Hoplin, Jared Kinney, Caitlin Lien, Daniella Lima, Frank Matejcek, Kelsey Misialek, E. Dwayne Moore, Jenny Morris, Justin Nelson, Jackie O’Neil, David Paukert, Mare Thompson, Jordan Thornberg,
• Directors: Amy Jo Paukert, David Paukert
• Musical director: Amy Jo Paukert
• Producers: Richard and Judith Johnson.
• Production: Marlo Miller, choreographer; Mare Thompson and Lynn Liepold, costumers; Candyce Iseminger, sound; Joshua Johnson, lights; Amy Jo Paukert, set design; Carol Clark, set painter; Richard Johnson, Larry Johnson, set construction
• Pit orchestra: Amy Jo Paukert, Jeff Anvinson, Brandon Hettwer, Spencer Black
“Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” may not be the best-known musical but it’s been one of the most well-received presented in the 27 years of Frost Fire Summer Theatre at Walhalla, N.D. Why? Well, why not?
First off, it’s based on Mark Twain’s classic 1884 novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” about barefoot boys and their adventures in a small town on the Mississippi River, a bucolic setting that doesn’t ignore poverty, ignorance or slavery.
Second, it’s got music and lyrics written by Roger Miller (1936-1992), one of the most talented songwriters and entertainers of the 20th century.
“Big River,” a great Americana story with great music, opens Saturday at Frost Fire and runs through July 31, said David Paukert, who, along with his wife, Amy Jo Paukert, is directing the show. It previously was on stage there in 1992 and 2000, he said.
“It’s just a very entertaining story and the music by Roger Miller is very catchy,” Paukert said. “It has bluegrass, gospel and country. It has a score that people go away humming.”
In Twain’s classic, the boy Huck Finn (played by Jared Kinney) helps his friend Jim (E. Dwayne Moore), a slave, escape to freedom at the mouth of the Ohio River.
Their adventures along the way are hilarious, suspenseful and heartwarming. The characters include the Widow Douglas (Mare Thompson) and her stern sister, Miss Watson (Jenny Morris); uproarious con men King and Duke (Patrick DeMars and David Paukert); Huck’s partner in crime, Tom Sawyer (Frank Matejcek), and their rowdy gang of pals; Huck’s drunken father, the sinister Pap Finn (Patrick DeMars); and the lovely Mary Jane Wilkes (Caitlin Lien) and her trusting family.
Other cast members are Walter Criswell, Carly Flaagan, Luke Hoplin, Daniella Lima, Kelsey Misialek, Justin Nelson, Jackie O’Neil and Jordan Thornberg,
Moore is reprising the role of Jim that he also played at Frost Fire in 2000. He lived in Grand Forks from 1981 to 1986, in 1991 and from 1997 to 2002, and now lives in Omaha. He attended Central High School for a time and was cast in “The Wiz” there under the direction of Cyndee Brown, and was part of Frost Fire 2001 production, “The Civil War.” He sang for a North Dakota Ballet Company fundraiser and at other events, and was the singing manager of Giuliana’s Italian Restaurant of East Grand Forks.
Kinney, a 2002 graduate of Central who grew up at Manvel, N.D., had some of his earliest theater experiences as a boy in Grand Forks Community Theatre shows such as “Wind in the Willows” in 1998, followed by adult roles such as “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” (2007 and 2008). He was featured in Central’s “Most Happy Fella” in 2002, Prairie Dog Players “Forever Plaid” in 2003, Frost Fire’s “Les Miserables” (2009) and “Fiddler on the Roof” (2009) and Crimson Creek Players’ “Hair” (2009), and that’s just a start. In 2010, he directed “Forever Plaid” and “The Odd Couple” (starring David Paukert).
Moore said the main difference between this year’s “Big River” and the one in which he starred in 2000 is that he’s 11 years older. Otherwise, he says, it had a talented cast then and it has a talented cast now.
In Mark Twain’s time, describing black people by using the “n” word, although considered derogatory, was still a part of the language, and it is a part of the “Big River” script. It was decided to keep the word in some parts of the show. “Big River” will begin with the Mark Twain character and the characters of Jim and Huck coming on stage to introduce the show. Part of their remarks will speak to the issue of the historical language of the show and the times in which it was set.
“We also talked with Dwayne (who plays Jim) when he came to rehearsal” about the script’s inclusion of the “n” word, Paukert said. Moore supported leaving the word in the show.
“For my own personal reasons, I think taking it out would completely change the story,” Moore said. “There’s a huge transformation from Huck being a product of his environment to thinking on his own, (realizing) that just because he’s been taught one way doesn’t mean he has to be that way.”
Moore said he understood that Twain was writing from his own experiences of growing up in Hannibal, Mo., and the real-life characters he knew in the 1800s.
Twain’s timeless story and Miller’s score — with songs like “River in the Rain” and “Waitin’ for the Light to Shine” — will sweep audiences down the mighty Mississippi. Small wonder this funny, thoughtful show that reflects so much of America’s spirit has become the most requested show at Frost Fire, Paukert said.
“Big River” will open Saturday at Frost Fire outdoor covered amphitheater (seven miles west of Walhalla on County Road 55) with shows at 2 and 6 p.m. Other 2 p.m. shows will be on July 10, 13, 16, 17, 20, 23, 24, 27, 30 and 31. Other 6 p.m. shows will be July 16, 23, 30.
Tickets are $26 for adults and $12 for children with group rates available. Food service is available before each performance. Go to www.frostfiretheatre.com or call (701) 549-3600.