Mark Twain’s River of Song is a thoughtful journey at TheatreWorks

(l ,tor)Dan Wheetman, Tony Marcus, Chkc Street Man, Valisia LeKae and Rondell McCormick in Mark Twain’s River Song presented by TheatreWorks of Silicon Valley Oct 2 – 27, 2019 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts Photo Credit: Kevin Bwerne

MARK TWAIN’S RIVER OF SONG: Musical by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman. Directed by Randal Myler. TheatreWorks of Silicon Valley, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View, CA.  www.theatreworks.org or call (650) 463-1960.

October 2 – October 27, 2019

Mark Twain’s River of Song is a thoughtful journey at TheatreWorks. Rating: ★★★★☆1/2

Mark Twain ne Samuel Clemens was entwined both actually, humorously and intellectually with the mighty muddy Mississippi. Hal Holbrook made a living and earned honors with the one-man stage show, “Mark Twain Tonight.” Local icon Dan Hiatt, in his Samuel Clemens costume is a doppelganger. Haitt’s brilliant acting in TheatreWorks’ staging of Mark Twain’s River of Song is limited in scope with the right touch of humor needed to tell the story. He introduces most of the scenes beginning with the avuncular “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story” and other bon mots taken directly from his written work.

The evening is both a musical revue with an added short play for the second act. Although the play deviates from the concept of  “River of Song” it is a heart wrenching segment taken from the novel “Huckleberry Finn”  retelling the story of slave Jim escaping from slavery on a raft with Huck. In act one there is a brief mention of the River being used as a conduit for runaway slaves when a New Orleans black woman steals aboard a steamboat and jumps off in Cincinnati.

Along with Mark Twain there is an accomplished five member ensemble telling the story of the river as singers/actors who play a plethora of instruments . . . fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, tambourine and even a washboard. Much of the music is down home recognizable traditional American with the addition of 10 or 11 original pieces written by playwright/composer Dan Wheetman. Randal Myler directs using a firm hand juxtaposing the stage action with historic images projected on the rear wall.

Those projections are vintage black and white depicting of course the steam boat where teenage Clemens was trained to be a steamboat pilot and took his name “Mark Twain” from the method of determining river depth. The journey is mostly down river from the lumberjacks in the North, farmers and settler’s in mid-America to slave auctions in the South.

Included in the ensemble is Chic Street Man: “A superb urban acoustic folk-blues artist who is a musical ambassador for peace and human rights who starred in and composed the music for Joseph Papp’s production of “Spunk” at the New York.” His fame and ability do not overshadow the other ensemble members, whose voices range from superb soprano (Valisia LeKae), expressive baritone (Rondell McCormick) and multi-ranged Dan Wheetman who sings most of songs he has written. Tony Marcus playing a fantastic fiddle is rarely used for singing.

While the music and acting is more than laudable the production values that earned TheatreWorks the 2019 Regional Tony Award are again on display and should be experienced. Running time is less than two hours with an intermission.

CAST: Mark Twain Dan Hiatt; Ensemble: Valisia LeKae; Tony Marcus; Rondrell McCormick; Chic Street Man; Dan Wheetman.

CREATIVE CAST:  Musical Director Dan Wheetman; Scenic and Media Designer David Lee Cuthbert, Costume Designer Jill C. Bowers, Lighting Designer Steven B. Mannshardt, Sound Designer Jeff Mockus, Casting Director Jeffrey Lo, Stage Manager Taylor McQuesten, Assistant Stage Manager Emily Anderson Wolf.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.