‘Mark Twain’s River of Song’ celebrates the Mississippi

The mighty Mississippi is celebrated in words and song in “Mark Twain’s River of Song,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

Created by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman, this musical revue combines original songs by Wheetman along with traditional songs. They’re interspersed with the words of Mark Twain (Dan Hiatt), who serves as a sort of emcee, plus oral histories from lumbermen, farmers, dock workers and slaves who all worked along the river.

These passages are quite effective, describing these people’s relationship with the river.  The slaves’ words are most interesting because they describe the lives of several slaves and recount their efforts to escape to the north and freedom via the river.

There’s not much of a story, although Twain does talk about his boyhood in Hannibal, Mo., on the banks of the river and his desire to become a river boat pilot. He ran away at age 14, got a river boat job and eventually did become a pilot before embarking on his literary career.

This six-person version of the play is a revision from a three-person show that premiered earlier this year. At times it feels like a work in progress, especially in the first act. Also indicative of a work in progress is that the order of songs performed doesn’t always match the program.

The second act is more interesting, especially when it features long passages from Twain’s masterpiece, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” It’s set on a raft where Huck (Valisia LeKae) and Jim (Rondrell McCormick), an escaped slave, are making their way along the river.

The songs are performed well on a variety of instruments by LeKae, McCormick, composer Wheetman, Tony Marcus and Chic Street Man. Hiatt is engaging as Twain.

Besides serving as composer and performer, Wheetman is the show’s musical director, while co-creator Myler is the director.

Adding great interest to the show is the large map of the country before the Civil War plus the projected period photographs that create ambience for each scene. David Lee Cuthbert is responsible for these media designs along with the set.

Also contributing to the show are costumes by Jill C. Bowers, lighting by Steven B. Mannshardt and sound by Jeff Mockus.

Overall, the show is competently performed.

Running under an hour and 40 minutes with one intermission, “Mark Twain’s River of Song” will continue through Oct. 27 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

For tickets and information, call (650) 463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org.

 

 

About the Author

Judy RichterJudy reviews San Francisco Bay Area theater and writes feature articles about activities of the Stanford women's basketball team and Fast Break Club. A longtime Bay Area journalist, she is retired from the San Francisco Chronicle, where she was a writer and copy editor.View all posts by Judy Richter →