54 Sings Big River

54 Below
New York, NY
Warmth and camaraderie filled every square inch of 54 Below, turning the city’s leading nightclub into the Church of Big River for one emotional evening. Rocco Landesman (producer), Des McAnuff (director), Roger Miller (songwriter), William Hauptman (librettist) and the performers—including members of the two Broadway productions—were worshiped and adored. This much-loved and much-lauded musicalization of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn deserved all the adulation.

Genial and knowledgeable MC Phil Geoffrey Bond told of Big River’s inexorable road to success, illustrated with a generous helping of its songs, beginning with “Do You Wanna Go to Heaven,” sung by a chorus of finger-waggers warning Huck to study the Bible. Daniel Jenkins, the Huck of both Broadway versions, performed “Waitin’ for the Light to Shine,” expressing Huck’s sad, but hopeful, feelings which reached fruition in the bright declaration of selfhood, “I, Huckleberry, Me.” Jenkins spoke movingly of his experiences and his many cast members, who included Marin Mazzie, who made her Broadway debut as a replacement in the show. She sang the closely harmonized “You Oughta Be Here with Me” with other cast members Andi Henig and Karen Black, and “Leavin’s Not the Only Way to Go” with Jenkins and 2003’s Jim, Michael McElroy.

Roger Miller’s Tony Award-winning score is a delightful combination of bluegrass and country with a big dollop of gospel as in “Arkansas/How Blest We Are” performed by Daryl Glenn, Jennifer Leigh Warren and the talented ensemble which included the brilliant Scott Coulter who brought energy to the hoedown number, “Hand for the Hog.” In the same gospel vein was McElroy’s soaring “Free at Last.”

The rich score was led by Mark Hartman on piano conducting the Muddy Water Quintet, producing beautiful harmonies, witty arrangements and a profound understanding of the show.

Joel Benjamin
Cabaret Scenes
September 14, 2014