New York | 2h 30m | Already closed

Big River

From 20 critic and 114 member reviews
Members say: Great singing, Entertaining, Delightful, Great acting, Dated

About the show

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

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.


"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

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

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 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


"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

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

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

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


"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

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

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


"'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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"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


"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

Delightful, Entertaining, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if You love family-friendly entertainment with depth, great songs,, humor and Mark Train's Huckleberry Finn.

Don't see it if You like edgy, controversial, X-rated shows and non-melodic music - which I do not!

Also I love the inspiration, warmth and music - a feel-good show!

Delightful, Must see, Modest, Sweet

See it if you love Big River. You want a sweet night/day at the theatre. You like modest productions that pack a punch.

Don't see it if you hate musicals about barely educated teenagers escaping all of the crazy adults in their lives or seeing anything about slavery.

Entertaining, Great singing, Relevant, Delightful, Great acting

See it if You enjoy great singing and acting, and have a fondness for Twain and his characters.

Don't see it if you are easily offended by the sordid history of the way Blacks were treated in the past, or Twain's interpretation of the same.

Delightful, Absorbing, Great acting, Great singing, Thought-provoking

See it if You are a fan of the show or have never seen it. The music is wonderful. Incredible singers.

Don't see it if You don't like musicals.

Must see, Great score, Great staging, Great singing, Resonant

See it if want to hear a uniquely wonderful score by Roger Miller, a loving adaptation, and the kind of production that gives Encores its reputation.

Don't see it if you don't like soulful country music or are not interested in a portrait of one of America's darkest periods made engaging by a great writer

Great singing, Relevant, Must see, Lyrical

See it if superb voices, a range of lyrical musical genres, excellent performers and wonderfully under-amplified music by cast and orchestra appeal

Don't see it if the Huck Finn story seems to simplistic to you as the basis for a meaningful musical

Also Saw the original and the B'dway revival and this was a purer and bette... Read more Read less

Delightful, Entertaining, Great singing, Great acting, Refreshing

See it if You like energetic musicals with great singing and score played by a fantastic orchestra conducted deftly.

Don't see it if You don't like revivals which are beautifully directed & staged.

Entertaining, Great singing, Relevant

See it if you enjoy great singing in a show with reminders of the past. I intend to re-read a few books that were required in HS.

Don't see it if you don't want to walk all the way up to 55th Street.

Delightful, Entertaining, Great singing, Refreshing, Relevant

See it if You like being entertained, remember the first time you met Twain

Don't see it if You don't like musicals or think Lincoln shouldn't have freed the slaves.

Delightful, Great singing, Relevant, Charming

See it if You possibly can....only a few more performances.

Don't see it if You like elaborate scenery and huge production numbers.

Must see, Resonant, Touching, Funny, Enchanting

See it if you want to enjoy one the most underrated American musicals! An impeccable story and delightful score makes it an Adventure worth taking!

Don't see it if you don't like "country" music. (I don't but I LOVE this Americana score.) Poignant/relevant so if you only want fluff, it's not for you

Entertaining, Great singing, Intelligent, Resonant, Must see

See it if Lover of amazing music and fun and beautiful story

Don't see it if If you are expecting a big set. It is just a stage mostly with a band. I will say I didn't miss the lack of scenery at all though

Delightful, Entertaining, Hilarious, Funny, Refreshing

See it if You enjoy a country musical score and have a time machine (encores closed the night I enjoyed this production on Feb 12).

Don't see it if Racial injustice is too offensive. The story is based on Huck Finn and includes the dynamics of slavery.

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining, Great acting, Absorbing

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.

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

Clever, Enchanting, Great singing, Great acting, 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.

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining, Great singing, Great acting

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

Entertaining, Great singing, Great acting, Dated period piece, Very long second act

See it if You like Roger Miller's music. You like Mark Twain's humor.

Don't see it if You don't want to hear dated, politically incorrect language. You want to see elaborate sets.

Entertaining, Great singing, Great staging, Intelligent

See it if You enjoy excellent singing; are a fan of adaptations of great novels; enjoy country music

Don't see it if Need elaborate settings along with your music; only like contemporary music

Funny, Great singing, Must see, Delightful, Entertaining

See it if like me, you somehow managed to miss this show in its earlier incarnations. the score is gorgeous, and the performances are excellent.

Don't see it if your idea of a broadway show tune begins and ends with the golden age. this score is country, bluegrass and gospel, and it's terrific!

Delightful, Entertaining, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Absorbing

See it if you like a good, well written, polished, inspirational country/gospel musical.

Don't see it if your expecting an extravaganza with expensive sets and props.

Clever, Relevant, Resonant, Great acting, Funny

See it if If you appreciate older broadway shows with a focus on social issues. Also some great musical numbers.

Don't see it if You are a fan of more contemporary shows.

Great singing, Warm-hearted, Moving, Uneven, Great acting

See it if you know/love the songs, you're moved by stories abt human connections, you enjoy country/folk/gospel, you can view our history as flawed

Don't see it if you need grand staging, you can't abide some janky throw-away numbers, you want pure classical "showtunes", you're bored by subplots

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.

Cast & Creatives (29)