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Musical remains faithful to Twain's words

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By Theresa Goffredo
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Huck (Randy Scholz) and Jim (Rodney Hicks) in a scene from "Big River," a Village Theatre production. It's a musical version of Mark Twain's...

    Photo by Jay Koh

    Huck (Randy Scholz) and Jim (Rodney Hicks) in a scene from "Big River," a Village Theatre production. It's a musical version of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Let's answer what is probably one of the first questions you are asking about Village Theatre's musical "Big River."
Yes. The production will use the "n" word.
"Big River" is the retelling of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," a book that was written in 1884 and comes with a long history of controversy.
Much of this controversy has centered on the author's use of the "n" word. The book has been banned by schools, re-written and criticized, with many of the book's critics saying our society has come too far and matured too much to accept such a word.
But Village Theatre thought differently.
Executive producer Robb Hunt and artistic director Steve Tomkins believe using the word means remaining faithful to the story while also offering audiences lessons they might learn through the lens of our country's past.
"This is particularly important in our present day; as the term is becoming more common in pop culture, particularly rap music, leading to what we believe is a need for increased understanding of its origin," Hunt and Tomkins wrote in the production's preview guide.
Randy Scholz, who is playing Huck Finn, couldn't agree more.
"Not using the 'n' word doesn't make any sense," Scholz said in a phone interview. "It tells us how we got where we are and how we can't ignore the difficult stuff and we need to accept it and process it to better understand where we are today."
Scholz said that use of the word is not intended for shock value. The word is only used in the most "poignant" of contexts so as not to numb audiences to it, Scholz said.
Scholz, who is 26, said playing Huck doesn't mean playing an age but channeling how a person might think if he's had the harsh experiences Huck had.
According to Twain's story, Huck Finn grew up with an abusive alcoholic father, Pap, who would go into drunken rages. To escape this abuse, Huck fakes his own death and heads for the river to help his friend Jim escape slavery. The river provides many adventures as the two meet up with kings, thieves and angry mobs.
Jim is played by Broadway star ("Rent") and television actor (NBC's "Grimm") Rodney Hicks.
Scholz said "Big River" has also given him the opportunity to experience the music of renowned country singer-songwriter Roger Miller, who wrote the musical's powerful score.
"The music is the heart of the show," Scholz said.
Music director Tim Symons strategically stripped all the horns and brass from the orchestra to really highlight the country core of this music.
Also, instead of using a traditional orchestra pit, some cast members will perform musical instruments on stage, and Symons will play piano and conduct six other band members from a slightly elevated music pit. A total of 17 instruments will be played by these seven musicians, including banjo, dobro, harmonica, jaw harp, lap steel, organ and mandolin, according to press material.
"It's always a pleasure to sing those sings. I don't take a bit of it for granted, especially singing all the duets with Rodney," Scholz said.
Though the show does contain some profanity and violence, including limited instances of whipping, tarring and feathering, and gun use, depicted and implied, Scholz said this is an all-ages show, especially for those kids who are lucky enough to have been introduced to the Huck Finn story already.
"And you can all have a very important discussion on the car ride home about some of the decisions that Huck made and people owning other people and where we have come from," Scholz said. "The story gets you thinking about it."
And you might even talk about the importance of words.
You can refer to Mark Twain, who once said: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter -- it's the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
"Big River" opens at 8 tonight and runs through Nov. 18 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave, Everett.
Tickets are $22 to $63. Go to www.villagetheatre.org or call 425-257-8600.

Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424; goffredo@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » TheaterBooksEverett

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