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'Big River' splashed down for weekend run in Kansas City's Kauffman Center

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"Big River"

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Culture House of Olathe, Kansas set new standards for 2014 by producing their summer musical, “Big River” in the prestigious Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts for two days, July 25 and 26, with three performances of the popular stage musical.

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The “King of the Road,” Roger Miller meets the king of the river, Huckleberry Finn and friends in the musical re-telling of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Miller, a popular song writer of the 60s penned the music for the classic, his only Broadway musical.

After last year’s successful production of “Les Miserables” at Yardley Hall on the Johnson County Community College campus, a bigger venue was needed and nothing could be grander or better than the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, a spokesman for Culture House said.

“Produced by an amazingly talented and diverse cast of local professional musicians, vocalists and performers, this moving and incredible production will enlighten audiences with the beautiful gospel and bluegrass music by Roger Miller, as well as the heart-warming tale based on Mark Twain's classic 1884 novel,” a spokeman for Culture House said.

The Broadway production, which swept the Tony’s in 1985, ran for over 1,000 performances and it remained one of the few very successful American musicals in the mid-1980s. The story follows Huckleberry Finn as he journeys down the river in an effort to help Jim, a slave, escape to freedom.

Unilike another musical based on Twain’s classic novels, “Big River” deals with the abolitionist views of Twain, while “Tom Sawyer,” the musical eliminates the character of Jim and any mention or suggestion of slavery. “Big River” confronts the issues and used them as the focus of Jim’s escape and Huck’s spiritual cleansing.

Huck knows that Jim is a runaway slave, but finds Jim to be the father figure he never had, but wanted. Huck learns that Jim’s family has been sold to a far away farm and he may never see his wife or children again. Huck is an outcast from the loins of his no-good father, Pap. Jim is a fugative from justice as a runaway slave. Together they bond in Twain’s unforgettable story.

Culture House, a growing company set new standards last year with “Les Miserables,” based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name. But this year, “Big River” at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts topped that achievement, helping establish Culture House as a major community theater group ready to compete with larger, more established theater groups.

Give lots of credit to Jeremiah Enna the theater group continues to grow and develop. The show at the Kauffman Center raised the bar, again, for Culture House. The wonderful production they staged consisted of strong voices, strong acting, great comedic performances, and crisp direction and choreography.

Huck and Tom are well cast, and the young thespians held the stage as necessary for their characters. Jack Kapple and Arthur Clifford, Jr. were a joy to watch as they performed lines and song. De’Marcus Howell was a tender, caring Jim. His fatherly role toward Huck endeared him to audiences from his first entrance.

The comedy team of scoundrels, The Duke and The King, fell into the laps of King, Arthur Clifford Sr., and Duke, Taylor Bottles. Both encourged many laughs at their shenanigans. Their characters in the novel are funny and evil. In this, they are funny, and they do not come off as harshly evil–even if they are swindlers. Credit two good performances for keeping their characters funny.

A strong production features a collaboration of artists and technicians. “Big River” utilized the creative talents of many on stage persons as well as the backstage hands that created the sound, costumes, lighting, makeup, props, choreography, and so many more aspects of the show. All of those on the creative and production deserve recognition for outstanding efforts.

The orchestra, too, added a lot to this production from the conductor to the lone harmonica player. Add performed a fun score with shades of gospel and bluegrass music as the backdrop. Their efforts paid dividends as the cast sang to their music.

Overall, the production was clean, tight, and moving. The dialogue, action and story never sagged and the audience enjoyed the entirety of the show. The show gets the highest rating for audience appeal and performance.

The Culture House is one of the most unique training and performance venues in the Kansas City area. With theatre, dance, vocal and instrumental music, and visual arts all under one roof, it is an experience one cannot miss. Additionally, upon entering, find students from all over Kansas City and surrounding areas. With professional education and performance opportunities for ages 4 through adult, The Culture House is Kansas City’s premier performing arts academy.

Cast for “Big River”: Huckleberry Finn, Jack Kapple; Jim, De’Markcus Howell; King, Arthur Clifford Sr.; Duke, Taylor Bottles; Pap Finn, Brent Sander; Tom Sawyer, Arthur Clifford Jr., Young Fool /men’s ensemble, Andy Massey; Mary Jane Wilkes, Shannon Buhler/women’s ensemble; Judge Thatcher & Rev. Wilkes /men’s ensemble, Pete Barrett; Widow Douglas/women’s ensemble, Trudy Hurley; Miss Watson/women’s ensemble, Jeannette Bonjour; Susan Wilkes/teen ensemble; Abby Peek; Joanna Wilkes/teen ensemble, Emma Walters; Alice/slave ensemble, Legna Cedillo; Alice's Daughter/slave ensemble, Joelle Kimbrough; Ben Rogers & Second Man/men’s ensemble, Caleb Tracy; Joe Harper/men’s ensemble, Nicholas Perry; Simon & Lafe (loafer)/teen ensemble, Yianni Perahoritis; Dick/teen ensemble, Brett Rawlings; Andy (loafer) & Hired Hand 1/teen ensemble, Torin Keena; Hank (loafer) & Sheriff Bell/men’s ensemble, Ken Koval; “Crossing” soloist/slave ensemble, Deiondre Teagle; Counselor Robinson/men’s ensemble, Forrest “Frosty” White; Strange Woman/wome’s ensemble, Ginger Zemelman; Sally Phelps/women’s ensemble, Deborah Keys; Silas Phelps & First Man/men’s ensemble, Chuck Chambers; Mark Twain & Doc Robinson/men’s ensemble, John Van de Voort; Tart #1/teen ensemble, Allie Carroll; Tart #2/women’s ensemble, Katherine Ruprecht; Tart #3/women’s ensemble, Brianna Valente; Hired Hand 2/teen ensemble, Noah Loethen.

“The Crossing” Soloists: Jamie “J.Love” Chase with Kaleb Chase, Willie Dove, Dorothy Reedy-Schneider, Deiondre Teagle. Slave Ensemble: Rachel Alexander, Andrea Hobley, Josie Joseph, Anthony Nicholas, Amara Webb, Amaya Williams, Carolyn Young. Women’s & Men’s Ensemble: Betsy Morken, Susan Neu, Terry Nichols, Danielle Rawlings. Teen Ensemble: Cole Bellamy, Natalie Carrera, Maddie Charles, Josh De Voe, Kaitlin Duncan, Brin Eisele, Cortlyn Eisele, Faith Eisele, Laura Fotovich, Ava Hauser, Liz Hughes, Lauryn Hurley, Nicole Miller, Lauren Mulligan. Boys’ Ensemble: Connor Ampleman, Tyler Fowle, Joshua Walters. Girls’ Ensemble: Zoey Johnson, Natasha Moore, Elizabeth Phillips, Ana Rojas-Plumberg, Austyn Sander.

The creative team includes: Director, Amy Sander; Music Director/Orchestra Conductor, Kelsie Clark; Choreographer, Lana Jensen; Stage Manager, Jenny Keena. The production: coordinators, Kerstin Clifford, Tracy Miller; Rehearsal Accompanist, Roberta Wilkes; Set & Costume Concept, Amy Sander; Set Construction Design, Jason Hagg; Scenic Artistic Design, Matt Fox; Lighting Design, Robert Bowen; Costume Coordinator, Kerstin Clifford; Costume Construction, Patti Perahoritis; Properties Manager, Shannon McCluskey; Shift Crew Manager, Mike Keena; Backstage Managers, Zoie Perahoritis, Elaine Christensen; Make-up/Hair Design, Lori Tracy.

Orchestra: Conductor, Kelsie Clark; Piano, Roberta Wilkes; Woodwind, Jim Vinkenberg; Trumpet, Kathlyn Daniels; Trombone, William Biggs; Drums, Gordon Chase; Bass, Jj Wallace; Guitar I, Guitar II, Danny Fowler; Violin, Jonathan Schriock; Harmonica, Jim Farley;

For Additional Information, Please Call the Culture House at 913.393.3141 or Visit Their Website.

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