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'Big River' opens Friday at Peoria Players

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The timeless story of Huck Finn and his adventure in helping at least one slave gain his freedom will take the stage at Peoria Players Theatre, opening Friday at 7:30 p.m.

"Big River," the musical based on Mark Twain's novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," will give eight performances, including two matinees. Show times are 7:30 p.m. on March 16, 17, 21, 22, 23 and 24 and at 2 p.m. March 18 and 25.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for patrons 12 and under. They can be purchased online at www.peoriaplayers.org or by calling 688-4473.

Seth Johnson, left, and Sam Hardimon portray Huckleberry Finn and Jim, respectively, in the Peoria Players Theatre production of "Big River," which opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the theatre. Directed by Chip Joyce, "Big River" has been presented on area stages at Corn Stock Theatre, Eastlight Theatre and Bradley University. But it's the first time for the Peoria Players stage and Joyce said it has special meaning for him.

"This has been a favorite show of mine for a long time. Mark Twain has always been one of my favorite authors. I grew up reading his stories about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and when I was young we took trips to Hannibal (Missouri)," Joyce said.

"I guess reading about Huck and Tom was kind of a boy's story, like the girls had Nancy Drew. So it was fun to read," he said.

As he got older, Joyce said, he realized the stories — particularly about Huckleberry Finn — were more or less Twain's commentary on the times in which the stories are written. That Huckleberry Finn helped his friend Jim escape slavery "shows what Twain thought about the state of affairs in the 1840s, even though the book wasn't written until about 40 years later and after slavery was abolished. It examines how wrong society was at that time," Joyce said.

In Huck Finn, he added, "we have this sort of rapscallion boy who figured out ahead of all of them that slavery was wrong."

Joyce said he further was attracted to the show by the quality of the music, written by Roger Miller, the king of country music. "It's a great score," he said.

The cast of 28 includes veterans and newcomers to the Peoria Players stage, with ages ranging from 12 to 75.

Seth Johnson, a senior at Pekin High School, portrays Huckleberry Finn in his Peoria Players debut.

Sam Hardimon is playing Jim, reprising a role he has played three times previously at other venues.

Other cast members include Jeff Craig and The Duke, Curt Rowden as The King and Jeff Joyce as Pap Finn.

Also on stage will be three musicians who follow the action and play throughout, but there also is an orchestra in the pit. Tony Roberts is the music director.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).