The Show Must Go On: All Critics Invited

Goodspeed Performs Huck Finn Despite Controversy of Novel

To this day, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain remains one of the most controversial books. 

So there was some hesitation about how it would go over when the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam decided to run a musical play adaptation.

Elisa Hale is the Public Relations Manager.

She said the idea to do the show came up this time last year, when director Rob Ruggiero was putting on "1776" at Goodspeed.

"Our Executive Director Michael Price asked the director if there was a show he's always wanted to do," she said.  "He thought about it, then it hit him - Huck Finn.  It's on the Connecticut River, and with our Victorian setting, the time period the theater is from, it's almost exactly the time period as when the novel was written here in Hartford by Mark Twain.  It was almost immediate fireworks."

But Goodspeed wanted to make sure those fireworks wouldn't translate into something explosive in all the wrong ways.

"It's the most read and most banned book in the world," said Hale.  "In early years it was looked down upon and even banned because it was considered to have poor language and be offensive.  It was because of Mark Twain's use of true language and a very conversational way of speaking."

Hale said the book was even banned in some Manchester schools last year, which led Goodspeed to be extra sensitive to the perceptions.

"Michael Price decided to sit everyone involved in the production down to discuss what everyone was comfortable with," she said.  "Basically everyone spoke up in support of it.  They said 'we absolutely can't edit it down.  We can't deny history'."

They decided not to deny history, but made sure to respect it.

"The actor who plays the role of Jim (the slave) had done the production before when he was younger," said Hale.  "He said the first time he did the play, they didn't ask - they just edited it down.  He said he now understands the need to use the 'n' word in the play and recognizes it's particular role in theater and history."

The show, now in it's last week, has turned out to be quite a success. 

Hale said it's opened the door for parents to talk to their kids about racism and the history of it.  She also said people who've seen it have come back for more.

"It's gone over extremely well.  We're hearing wonderful compliments, like one of the best shows we've ever done.  We've even had people stop into the box office during intermission to buy tickets again."

One possible reason for the surge in popularity?  The timing.  Hale said the election of Barack Obama has ignited a surge in pride and patriotism, not just in the audience, but in the cast as well.

"The actor who plays Jim didn't think the election would change how he felt," she said.  "But he told us after it caught him off guard.  There's a moment in the show where he sings a beautiful song called 'Free at Last'."

She said Jim felt like he was singing it for the first time and it took on a whole new meaning.

"In the song, there's a moment when the entire cast comes in and backs him up in harmony, and he heard their voices in a sense for the first time.  He describes it as an emotionally overwhelming moment.  So many different voices, so many different people coming together and supporting something special."

"Big River" runs about two and a half hours long, with one intermission.  The show runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main St., East Haddam.

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