Members say: Great singing, Entertaining, Great acting, Delightful, Dated

About the show

Encores! presents a concert version of the 1985 Tony Award-winning musical based on 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.'

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A musical retelling of Mark Twain’s classic novel about friendship, freedom, and the untamed Mississippi, 'Big River' was an underdog as scrappy and restless as Huckleberry Finn himself. The show was created in the age of British spectacles by a quintessentially American artist—the beloved country and western singer Roger Miller—and his Tony-winning score is a blend of bluegrass, gospel, and honky-tonk. More than 30 years later, 'Big River' remains an affecting journey through 1840s America in all its beauty and savagery.

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

The New York Times

"If you are looking for a Huckleberry of irresistible sweetness and rambunctious naïveté, then Lear deBessonet’s buoyant Encores! production is the place to find him...Yet it can’t mask the feeling of anachronism that dogs this show...'Big River' feels like an awkward fit for this moment...It is hard to watch a story that’s framed as the tale of Huck and Jim without being bothered by how sidelined Jim is, and how very white and male anyone who has a substantial role is." Full Review


"It sounds better than ever...Scatliffe gives the standout performance of the evening: His delivery is vocally spectacular and he seems to sweat urgency from his pores...Lear deBessonet's production captures the matter-of-fact cruelty of the world according to Twain: Lines that make a modern audience blush are delivered without so much as a second thought...Everything comes together for Miller's distinctive country and bluegrass sound, which keeps our toes tapping throughout the evening." Full Review


"'Big River' turns out to be more pleasant than polished. Though Miller wrote a very attractive collection of songs, few of them are specific to the characters and plot...Despite the significantly smaller cast and modest production values, deBessonet and her terrific company smoothly navigate the ever-changing landscape of the musical's episodic journey." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"An all-too-limited engagement justifies its existence with its winning exuberance, terrific performances, and the top-flight musicianship...Landesman has provided a streamlined concert adaptation of Hauptman’s book that keeps the episodic story line flowing as smoothly as the Mississippi River. But the show’s strength has always been the terrific score by the late Roger Miller...Director Lear deBessonet provides a lively staging...This is a 'Big River' which deserves to flow on much longer." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"You will not be able to watch 'Big River' without squirming...Other than Jim...the black characters are entirely undifferentiated and unattached to the plot...The authors treat Jim exactly as Huck and the others do: That is, they mostly ignore him...I’m not saying that a story about white people’s awakening to the immorality of slavery doesn’t deserve to be told. But in 2017 you can’t use a chorus line of slaves just to decorate that story with unmoored testifying and gospel thrills." Full Review

New York Theater

"A pleasant enough confection but with a bitter aftertaste...As rendered by a large, talented cast and a ten-piece orchestra of the usual Encores! caliber, Miller’s score holds up, a mix of honky tonk, bluegrass, rousing gospel and Miller’s signature novelty songs...This did not strike me as a weighty enough production...Lines should land harder than they do. Part of the problem may be Nicholas Barasch...His Huck is too bland, with little of the mischievous schemer in his eye." Full Review

AM New York

"The relevance and appropriateness of 'Big River' and its source material are open to question in the current political and cultural environment...In my opinion, both works take on extended relevance today..."The Encores! production proves to be unusually polished, dramatically compelling and often fun and joyful...A score based on the sounds of bluegrass, Americana and gospel is no longer a rarity, but 'Big River' sounds as fresh and flavorful as ever here." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Emphasizing Miller's score only exacerbates the issues that already exist...It doesn't matter how good Rob Berman's orchestra sounds...if it all comes across as literature night at a condemned honky-tonk...This approach ends up transforming everyone outside the central foursome into extras rather than integral participants in the narrative...The problem with 'Big River' in general, and this version in particular, is that you don't really care about much." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"Magnificently played by its onstage ten-piece orchestra and sung brilliantly by its cast...Landesman has provided a streamlined concert adaptation of Hauptman’s book that allows the show to ebb and flow. Director Lear deBessonet and choreographer Rhodes have kept the staging streamlined and energetic, yet with plenty of wonderful dance numbers to satisfy...Hauptman’s book is weak in a lot of areas, but Miller’s score is lush and worth listening to. The Encore production is Broadway worthy." Full Review


"The Encores! production of 'Big River' is, in a word, perfect. And, in a few other words, moving, powerful and exhilarating...This superb staged by Lear deBessonet, who has done miraculous work at the Public Theatre. It’s spirited and lively and the cast couldn’t be better: up-and-comer Nicholas Barasch as the game but sometimes conflicted Huck; Kyle Scatliffe resonant and powerful as Jim; and a supporting cast of veterans that makes meals of every role." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"The Encores! production of 'Big River' feels as twangy and bluegrass as can be, filled with melodic moments of beauty and history. It starts out floating on the charm and winning character of Huck Finn, played with the perfect balance of fire and freckles by Barasch...The weakness lies in the book, not the music or lyrics. The book attempts to address racism and slavery, and it does in many thoughtful ways, but seems to minimize Jim’s role in comparison to the teenage boys." Full Review


"With its delightful performances, lively staging, and Roger Miller’s sparkling country and bluegrass score, this Encores! revival of 'Big River' is splendid and thoughtful entertainment...Mr. Barasch is onstage virtually the entire time and winningly carries the show. Kyle Scatliffe brings dignity, forcefulness and powerful vocal ability during his commanding performance...Director Lear deBessonet vigorously integrates all of the production’s elements into a compelling presentation." Full Review

Theater In The Now

“A simple yet enthralling production with no frills attached…This version of ‘Big River,’ the production let the music soar and the story take center stage while your imagination ran wild...Overall production was so strong, it's easy to forgive the lack of super power 'Muddy Water' ended up having…Between a beautiful score and a classic story, Big River will shine on within the canon of musical theater. New York City Center has done an extraordinary job celebrating this work." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Lear deBesonnet’s simply but thoughtfully staged production of this enchanting musical is both entertaining and enlightening...The entire production benefits from such savvy casting...One of the continually surprising elements of the show is the versatility of the score by Roger Williams...In this era where racism has reared back into the forefront of many people’s consciousness, Twain’s not-so-subtle commentary on slavery resonates in a way it didn’t in its previous two productions." Full Review


"The 17 songs were the best things about “Big River” then. And they are the best part of the semi-staged concert revival...The show struck me as bland and surprisingly ho-hum in the original and, despite a fine cast in director Lear DeBessonet’s pleasant story-theater production, I still think the journey’s a bore...Nicholas Barasch has the presence and the look as Huck, though his singing only comes alive in duets with Kyle Scatliffe’s imposing, sensitive Jim." Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

"A new, lively concert-style staging...The plot is very incident-packed and a bit too sprawling. Still, the essence of Twain’s vision is there, wrapped in the twang-y country-style score mixed with passionate songs...Nicholas Barasch makes a delightfully rebellious Huck, who befriends Jim, played with dignity by Kyle Scatliffe…The production, set along the Mississippi River Valley in the 1840s, has some nifty numbers with the ensemble adding strength backing the soloists." Full Review

Epoch Times

“Barasch, who perfectly embodies the character of Huck, does an excellent job of making this morally ambiguous individual both fascinating and likeable. Sieber and Pittu do fine jobs as the Duke and the King. Sieber in particular, his character an actor by trade, hilariously mangles the words of Shakespeare in an attempted soliloquy...Deceptively simple and totally compelling, ‘Big River’ offers a strong lesson about people caught up in a painful moment in America’s past." Full Review


"Even if one were to accede that 'Big River' could pass as a play with music rather than a traditional musical, the play itself is no great shakes. Hauptmann's book plods and meanders...The inert Encores! production certainly didn’t do the broad-brush songs and ambling script any favors. DeBessonet’s static staging only seemed to make the many dull stretches in both acts of the show seem to go on even longer. What few joys this Encores! staging provided were in the casting." Full Review

Theatre Reviews by John Clum

"Miller's generous score, filled with bluegrass, country and gospel, is very much worth hearing. Some songs seem tangential, but the novel is so episodic that not much justification for a rousing song is necessary...Barasch is charming and sings and dances like an old pro. Jim, the slave, is a tricky part to play in the 21st century. Scatliffe gives him great strength, integrity and pathos...The production didn't win me over to Twain's book, but reminded me of of how talented Miller was." Full Review

Edge New York

"Though not crafted quite to typical Broadway standards, Miller's songs have infectious melodies and exude loads of character...The book by William Hauptman is solid, but perhaps a little less successful than the score, possibly because some of the book's shenanigans aren't as entertaining without Twain's inimitable voice...The production is blessed with a terrific cast...The stars of the show are the best reasons to see this 'Big River.'" Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Enchanting, Interesting, Entertaining, Great singing

See it if you love to read the classic Mark Twain.

Don't see it if you find Huckleberry Finn boring.

Also The voices are powerful. The history that we all know can be slow. It ... Read more Read less

Relevant, Disappointing, Dated, Great singing

See it if you want to see some amazing singers do a phenomenal job with below-average content

Don't see it if you dislike shows that revolve around race/if you get offended easily. It is not for the fainthearted... do not take children

Slow, Classic, Great singing, Great band

See it if You want to see a well cast Huck and Jim in this rarely done musical. Great on-stage band, too!

Don't see it if You don't like huckleberry finn. Also, if you are looking for an exciting evening. Act 1 is a lot of fun, act 2 has always been boring.

Banal, Disappointing, Cliched

See it if you are curious, but REMEMBER, curiosity KILLED THE CAT!!!

Don't see it if you can get a ticket to ANYTHING else other than Kid Victory, The Price, or Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

Also I had the great fortune to see the original Broadway production of the... Read more Read less

Slow, Dated, Great singing

See it if You like understated staging and are a fan of Mark Twain

Don't see it if You don't want to journey back to the 1800s

Funny, Entertaining

See it if you like simple stories and big music.

Don't see it if n/a

Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Resonant, Entertaining

See it if you'd like to see Roger Miller's gorgeous score beautifully performed by a great cast, accompanied by the Encores orchestra.

Don't see it if you cannot divorce the words, writing, and time period of Mark Twain from more contemporary ways of addressing racial and class issues.

Delightful, Quirky, Entertaining, Great singing, Fluffy

See it if You see this show to hear the vocals.

Don't see it if The book is not very well written. At the moment, you're much better off seeing the tour of The Color Purple.

Great acting, Entertaining, Fun, Great singing, Great staging

See it if you want to see a fantastic production of Big River.

Don't see it if you feel like Big River is outdated and not necessarily appropriate (read: too racist) to be performing earnestly today

Dated, Entertaining, Fun, Great singing

See it if you want to see an enjoyable production of this play. Fun, good actors, some great singing, and very engaging.

Don't see it if you are not interestetd in this dated story and want more relevant stories for today.

Absorbing, Clever, Delightful, Great acting, Entertaining

See it if You want to see a masterful performance by Nicholas Barasch. You want great songs and a great story.

Don't see it if If you do not like semi stages productions. You hate country music.

Great acting, Disappointing, Overrated, Slow, Great singing

See it if you want to see the story of Huckleberry Finn.. Other than that, really not to much to say here. Was looking forward to it, but disappointed

Don't see it if you don't want to site through a long story that really did not bring you in. At times, was just trying to be too whimsical and didn't work.

Delightful, Entertaining, Great singing, Great staging

See it if you love Mark Twain, bluegrass-y music, and lovely performances. Plus, the orchestra was fantastic!

Don't see it if you like a fully staged show with big sets, a standard Broadway sound, or dislike musicals in general.

Overrated, Superficial, Whitewashed

See it if Have never seen the show, as hard to imagine any other productions (save Deaf West) would be able to rescue the material either

Don't see it if Looking for intelligent adaptation of Twain, or even a well constructed show on its own merits, expect MT songs to go somewhere

Funny, Profound, Overrated, Slow, Great singing

See it if Huckleberry Finn told with country songs improves Twain's comic tale of fellow river travelers in an era of racial discord. Muddied waters.

Don't see it if Faithful to a fault with excessive narration runs a musical aground. Show occasionally soars but most songs just repeat what's understood.

Enchanting, Great acting, Dated, Great direction, Great music & orchestra

See it if you enjoy great acting and directing. I've enjoyed Lear DeBessonet's work at the Public and this was wonderful too.

Don't see it if you don't like country music. But the Encores orchestra is so talented, you will enjoy anyway! I found the lighting too bland.

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining

See it if you like Blue Grass, gospel, country, Twain, great performances, timeless themes, have never seen this Broadway classic, yearn to again

Don't see it if country music isn't your thing. That's going to be the biggest stumbling block; the rest of it's so wonderful it'll win you over!

Also Nicholas Barasch, who plays Huck Finn in this production, is the bigge... Read more Read less

Thought-provoking, Relevant, Banal, Dated, Entertaining

See it if you want to see how this Tony-winner-by-default holds up

Don't see it if you expect it to

Also It was generally well done, if hardly brilliant, but in the end it was... Read more Read less

Delightful, Slow, Entertaining

See it if you like country music and a reminder of sadder days re; racial problems

Don't see it if you are expectinga song and dance etravaganza..... but alas we caught the last performance

Clever, Enchanting, Great acting, Great singing, Beautiful music

See it if You love descriptive story-telling; if you love beautiful music that could be stand-alone songs outside of musical theater. Fun & upbeat.

Don't see it if You prefer large set designs; this was an extremely simple stage production as is typical for this venue.

Also I am sorry that it was such a short run and more people can't see it.

Great acting, Slow, Dated, Great singing, Great orchestration

See it if You love Mark Twain. Stylized treatment of painful history makes it dated. First act slow, picked up greatly in second act, worth seeing.

Don't see it if Vaudeville treatment of slavery offends or if you don't like Twain, whose book literally narrates the show.

Banal, Dated

See it if You like country music and old fashioned stories

Don't see it if You are not a fan of country music and trite stories

Clever, Delightful, Great acting, Entertaining, Great singing

See it if You're a fan of Huckleberry Finn or Roger Miller's music

Don't see it if You're "offended" by Mark Twain's writing or you only like lavishly staged shows.

Also This review is irrelevant, since the show played its final performance... Read more Read less

The orchestra was foot stompin' good, Exuberant!, Nice night if you wanted to let go and have fun., Songs were catchy

See it if You can turn back time, tonight was the last performance. It was fun, light hearted, smile a lot, Mark Twain. Some top notch singing.

Don't see it if You like big scenery, elaborate costumes, laser light pyrotechnics.

Entertaining, Fun, Great singing, Great staging

See it if You love Mark Twain, "Huck Finn," and classic musicals.

Don't see it if You don't like bluegrass or gospel

Cast & Creatives (29)