Big River tells the tale of young Huckleberry Finn’s (Derek Klena) big adventure down the great Mississippi River with runaway slave Jim (Pete Cole). As the evening’s narrator, Huck takes us through the events of that time including his upbringing by two God-fearing spinsters, time spent with his unsavory father (Danny Blaylock), hanging out with Tom Sawyer (Allen Everman), but mostly his journey down the river. Along the way, they encounter two very entertaining con-men known as the Duke (Chris Sands) and the King (also Danny Blaylock) who provide the lion’s share of the evening’s most enjoyable moments. In addition to Sands and Blaylock, Audrey Dukes is also a standout as Mary Jane, a pretty young woman who gets Huck’s notable attention when caught up in one of the con-men’s schemes. By the end of the story, Huck has “growed up” a bit and has learned much about human nature and his own values and is now ready to face the rest of his life’s adventures. We’d be disappointed if Mark Twain delivered us anything else.
The key to a fantastic Big River lies in the charm of the two main characters, Huck and Jim, and their relationship as they work together to overcome obstacles. Derek Klena is likable enough as Huck and Pete Cole does a just fine Jim, but neither one brings the enthusiasm or passion required to truly shine in their perspective roles. The overall production seems just a little rushed with just glimpses of the nuances needed to bring out the beauty of the drama contained within this folksy tale. Although it never quite “soars,” the production currently playing at the Candlelight Pavilion is a pleasant evening of theatre.
Big River at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. Claremont, (909) 626-3296, www.candlelightpavilion.com; Thru May 24, Thurs. through Sun. evenings, Sat. and Sun. matinees, $48-$75