Arts & Culture

Melodrama musical ‘Across the River’ reimagines ‘Huckleberry Finn’

Huckleberry Finn (Cameron Rose) and Jim (Philip Bolton) head down the Mississipi River on a raft in “Across the River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” playing at the Great American Melodrama in Oceano.
Huckleberry Finn (Cameron Rose) and Jim (Philip Bolton) head down the Mississipi River on a raft in “Across the River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” playing at the Great American Melodrama in Oceano.

The classic tale of Huckleberry Finn is told through song and dance in “Across the River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” at the Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville in Oceano. Based on the famous novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, this musical production was created by Brad Carroll and Thom Babbes.

After being tormented by his drunken father (Tim Stewart), Huckleberry Finn (Cameron Rose) and his faithful friend, Jim (Philip Bolton), escape on a raft down the Mississippi River looking for adventure and freedom.

Along the way, they encounter two on-the-run con artists, the Duke (John Keitel) and the King (Toby Tropper), masquerading as the sons of an English duke and the king of France. The two crooks convince Huck and Jim to give them a ride on the raft.

At the next stop, the Duke and the King meet two sisters, Mary Jane (choreographer Leah Kolb) and Susan Wilks (Mia Mekjian), who are grieving over the death of their father. The sisters are duped into believing that the Duke and King are long-lost uncles from England and must inherit their father’s fortune.

Huck becomes distraught over this devious hoax and vows to save the damsels in distress with the help of the local sheriff (also played by Stewart).

Meanwhile, Huck ignores Jim’s concerns about being discovered as a runaway slave. Jim eventually gets captured and Huck must now save his friend before he is returned to slavery.

Throughout this madcap escapade, Huck learns many moral lessons, especially the value of friendship and honesty.

“Across the River,” which is directed by Dan Schultz with musical accompaniment by Kevin Lawson, captures the spirit of adventure with delight and enthusiasm.

The skillful cast is anchored by Bolton’s strong performance; he portrays Jim with tremendous heart and soul. Rose similarly commands the stage as the rumbustious Huck but could be stronger on vocals.

Kolb and Mekjian adeptly play their roles as sisters; the former is sweet-tempered, and the latter sassy.

Keitel and Tropper are amusing as the conniving villains. And Stewart is solid playing the supportive characters of Huck’s father and the sheriff.

The inventive set design by Brian Williams features giant replicas of pages and illustrations from the original Mark Twain novel bordering the stage. Minimal props and furniture are used to portray a raft, a barn and the inside of the Wilks girls’ home.

Renee Van Niel’s costumes reflect the clothes worn in the mid-1800s, the time period in which the story is set. Tim Seawell is the lighting designer and Jessica Morgan is the stage manager.

Following each performance of “Across the River,” the Melodrama pokes fun at the medical profession with the vaudeville revue “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Using songs, dance and side-splitting comedy, the show features hilarious skits about hospital gowns, plastic surgery and witch doctors.

Directed by Eric Hoit, the revue features the same multi-talented cast from “Across the River.” The actors perform clever medical parodies of contemporary songs such as “Born this Way” by Lady Gaga and “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd.

One funny sketch is a spoof of the well-known holiday story “A Christmas Carol,” now called “A Cardiac Carol.” In this version, the spirit of Bob Marley teaches a potential cardiac patient the benefits of diet and exercise to prevent heart attacks. The musical director is Kevin Lawson and the choreography is by Kolb and Hoit.

‘Across the River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’

7 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday; 6 p.m. Sunday; through June 12

Great American Melodrama, 1863 Front St., Oceano

$19 to $25

805-489-2499 or www.americanmelodrama.com

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