Get your rafts ready: this is your last chance to roll down Big River at NJ's Paper Mill Playhouse. The show, which opened the venue's 60th anniversary season Sept. 10, ends its run Oct. 26 to make way for the Stephen Schwartz musical, Children Of Eden.
Directed by James Rocco (The Wizard Of Oz at NY's MSG), Big River features David Gunderman (Meet Me In St. Louis, A Change In The Heir).
Subtitled "The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn," William Hauptman & Roger Miller's musical adapts Mark Twain's novel about a young man (Gunderman) on a raft down the Mississippi River. Helping Jim, a runaway slave, get to his family, Huck's also duped by two convict conmen and smitten by the girl they plan to swindle. Lawrence Clayton plays Jim, Steve Boles (Faust in Chicago) and John Hillner (Crazy For You) are the convicts, Jessica Wright plays Mary Jane. Also in the ensemble are LaTonya Holmes, Jared Gertner, Brent Black, Renee Bonadio, John Brady, Debra Cardona, David Damane, Alan Gilbert, Audrey Lavine, Andrea McCormick, Jayme McDaniel, Bill Meisle, Tyler Pennock, Flynn Roberts, Shannon Stoeke, Avery Sommers, Robin Taylor, Kellie Turner and Chadwick Vogel.
Designing Big River are Michael Anania (set), Michelle Wynne (costumes) and Jack Mehler (lighting). Vicki Carter serves as musical director.
For tickets ($32-$47, children under 14: $25) and information on Big River call (973) 376-4343. Robert Johanson is artistic director of the Paper Mill Playhouse, the official state theatre of New Jersey. Classic musicals previously revived at the Millburn theatre include South Pacific, Show Boat and Gigi; newer works include Chess, Jane Eyre and Comfortable Shoes.
Here's the remaining Paper Mill Playhouse line-up for 1997-98:
CHILDREN OF EDEN (stories from the Old Testament demonstrate the timeless conflict between parents & children) Artistic director Johanson directs John Caird & Stephen Schwartz musical. Schwartz wrote this Biblical musical in 1989 during the period between Rags and Pocahontas. Unlike those two projects, he wrote music and lyrics for this retelling of the Noah story, just as he did in the Godspell and Pippin days. (Nov. 5-Dec. 14)
THE NUTCRACKER (the New Jersey Ballet featuring the Paper Mill Playhouse Orchestra) (Dec. 19-28).
THE MASK OF MORIARTY (Nicholas Martin directs a brand new Sherlock Holmes comic-mystery-thriller, from Hugh Leonard, author of Da). (Jan. 7-Feb. 15, 1998)
DEATH OF A SALESMAN (Arthur Miller's Pulitzer-Prize winning drama will feature Hal Holbrook, of Mark Twain Tonight renown. Gerald Freedman directs. Other plays by Miller include The American Clock and After The Fall. (Feb. 24-April 5, 1998)
FOLLIES (Robert Johanson directs the legendary Sondheim musical about veteran vaudevillians remembering their youth. Songs include "Losing My Mind" and "Waiting For The Girls Upstairs." (April 15-May 31)
THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES (The 1991 Tony winner for best musical, the shows tells a fanciful version of the life story of Rogers, one of America's most popular entertainer/comedians. Peter Stone wrote the book, Betty Comden & Adolph Green the lyrics, Cy Coleman the score. (June 10-July 26, 1998).
-- By David Lefkowitz