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Hopes high for 'Big River' at Playhouse
Show runs through this month
River 1 WEB
Sean Newman, playing Huck Finn, rehearses with the cast of “Big River” Thursday before opening night at the Cumming Playhouse. - photo by Autumn McBride

If you go

• What: “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

• When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sundays through July 31.

• Tickets: $20 for adults, $15 for students under 18 and seniors 60 and older, and $15 for groups of 15.

• Note: Donations above the ticket price are sought for Bald Ridge Lodge, a home for displaced boys; 100 percent of donations will go to the lodge.

• Contact: (770) 781-9178 and www.playhousecumming.com

Mark Twain fans likely will be pleased with the current Cumming Playhouse production.

Colleen Quigley Green, director of “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” said the show, which runs through the end of July, stays true to the classic American novel.

“This show is really close to the book,” Green said. “It was hard because Mark Twain is such a great author, when I would see a section of the play, I would go and refer back to that section of the book. So I think Mark Twain fans will be pleased.”

Besides the story of young Huck Finn, his mischievous cousin Tom Sawyer and Jim, a slave, who Huck helps escape to freedom at the mouth of the Ohio River, Green said the musical also features “an amazing score” and songs by country musician Roger Miller. 

“The music is just outstanding and adds a lot of flavor to the dialogue,” she said.

Jarius Cliett, who will be a freshman at the University of Alabama this fall, said his voice training has come in handy as he portrays Jim.

“I’ll be a classical voice major,” he said. “The [singing] techniques I’ve already learned help me [interpret] any form of music.”

Cliett drives more than an hour from his home in Mableton for the show. While it’s his first time portraying the character on stage, he has been a fan of some of the songs for a while.

“I’ve been singing one of Jim’s songs, ‘Free at Last,’ from the last scene since I was a sophomore in high school,” he said.

For Sean Newman, a 17-year-old from north Forsyth, playing the title character is “almost like an extension of [his] own consciousness.”

“I’ve grown up with this story and this is the second time I’ve played Huck Finn,” he said.

The first was three years ago, also under the direction of Green, at the Holly Theatre in Dahlonega.

He said the role is a pleasure, but also a challenge.

“In this version of the story, Huck is not only the main character, but also the storyteller,” he said. “It’s sometimes hard to find that line between being the character and telling the story.”

Linda Heard, executive director of the playhouse, expects “Big River” to be one of the venue’s most popular shows.

“Historically, the playhouse audiences love plays set in the South,” she said. “There is an automatic identity connection with the barefoot boys, the Southern way of speaking and the river setting.

“This show provides a nice alternative to the regular summertime activities and we are confident that ‘Big River’ will prove to be one of the most enjoyed shows … thanks to the multi-talented cast and superb producers and directors.”

Green directed her first show at the playhouse, an adaption of Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” last fall.

She said she was approached by playhouse leaders about heading up “Big River.”

“With this being another classic literature piece, I think they thought it would be a good fit,” she said.

Patrons can also give back to the community while enjoying the classic.

Heard said those purchasing tickets can choose to include a donation to the Bald Ridge Lodge, a shelter for displaced boys.

Any donation above and beyond the standard ticket price will be accepted and 100 percent of the donations will go to the lodge.

Playhouse employees encourage a gift of at least $2.50 beyond the ticket cost.

“Donation is not mandatory, but the opportunity is there to donate and we are seeing many choose this option,” Heard said.

“Our goal is to be able to present a $2,500 check to the boys’ lodge at the end of the [show’s] run.”

Like the young Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer in “Big River,” she said the lodge’s residents need their community’s support.

“This is truly a worthwhile cause as these young men are the generation waiting in the wings and they are certainly worth protecting, encouraging and being given a chance to be their best,” she said.