Surry Arts Council’s ‘Big River’ opens Saturday


By Terri Flagg - [email protected]



Director Rory Gilbert places a canoe in a river scene during rehearsals for the Surry Art Council's production of "Big River," which opens Saturday at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.


Hobart Jones | Surry Arts Council

Ken White and Bill Pugsley build a set for "Big River."


Hobart Jones | Surry Arts Council

Jerome Temoney, left, rehearses his role as Jim in the Surry Arts Council production of “Big River.”


Terri Flagg | The News

Huckleberry Finn, portrayed by Andrew Brodeur, hides during a “Big River” rehearsal.


Terri Flagg | The News

Rory GIlbert, right, directs the cast of “Big River” during a rehearsal Tuesday.


Terri Flagg | The News

The Andy Griffith Playhouse will pass for the Mississippi this weekend as the Surry Arts Council hosts “Big River.”

The play is a musical adaptation of Mark Twain’s novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Set in pre-Civil War Missouri, “The show follows Huck and runaway slave Jim as they escape down the Mississippi River towards freedom,” according to a summary provided by the SAC.

“Their journey incorporates a combination of bluegrass and southern gospel music and weaves classic characters, such as Tom Sawyer and The Royal Nonesuch, into a hilarious and heartfelt story the entire family will enjoy.”

The musical opened on Broadway in 1985 and won six Tony Awards that year, including best musical.

“I think the community is going to be really excited, seeing people singing these really powerful songs,” Jones said.

“This year we have selected shows, Driving Miss Daisy and Big River, that involve the African-American community,” Jones said.

“For us, theater and the arts bring folks together,” Jones said.

Jerome Temoney, who will portray the character Jim, agreed.

“The message in the play is really what is profound. It’s a strong message of unity,” Temoney said.

He referenced the song “Worlds Apart,” that Jim and Huck sing together.

“It really describes the similarities between black and white, and it also displays the separation,” he said. “It leaves a tone, that question mark, why are we divided, why are we separate, when we have so much in common.”

Rory Gilbert, a recent graduate of the drama directing program at the North Carolina School of the Arts, was tapped to direct.

“What drew me to this project is I love the story about Huck Finn,” he said. “A child was that far more thoughtful than any of the authority figures of his time. We all can learn a lot from Huck.”

Without it feeling like a lot of learning.

“Art allows us to see ourselves without having to do all of the really painful introspection,” he said.

Jones said that “Big River,” with a large cast, large set and live orchestra, is an ambitious project for the arts council.

While some of that is inherent to musical theater, “this is a much more complex product,” she said. “It’s particularly complex.”

Volunteers began installation of a new lighting system at the theater this week, and the accompanying lighting plan for the performance “adds a whole new dimension,” said Jones.

“We have a lot of talent working on the show,” Jones said.

The show stars Andrew Brodeur (Huckleberry Finn); Jerome Temoney (Jim); Todd Gerber (Duke); Greg Matthews(King); Pearl Moore (Widow Douglas); Emma Brady (Miss Watson); Robert Parks (Tom Sawyer); Bob Keck (Mark Twain, Pap Finn, and Sheriff Bell); Raegan Amos (Sally Phelps); Sterling Bohannon (Jo Harper, Silas Phelps, and Lafe); Logan Funderburk (Counselor Robinson, Andy, and Simon); Will Wharton (Hank and the Young Fool); Kam Benfield (Judge Thatcher and Harvey Wilkes); Marquita Temoney (Alice); Tiana Shuff (Alice’s Daughter); Caitlyn Price (Mary Jane Wilkes); Abby Brady (Joanna Wilkes); Catie Walker (Susan Wilkes); Brooksie Lawson (Dick and the Strange Girl); Maria Windsor (Ben Rogers); Dalila Nicholson (featured soloist); Jay Meadows (the Doctor).

Starring as members of the ensemble are Martina Banas, Anya Benfield, Sara Windsor, Peyton Alexandria, Rebekah Taylor, and Breanna McNabb.

Jane Tesh is musical director, Scott Needham is lighting designer, Sonia Crouse, set designer, and Ken White is sound technician and set craftsman. Stage managing the show is Morgan Meadows with costuming assistance from Marie Poole and Phyllis Smith. Aiding the show’s production team are crew members Jessica Smith, Tristan Crouse and Edgar Aquirre, and artist Susan Michael.

“The thing I can say of everyone in this cast is they care,” said Gilbert. “They care about each other, they care about the story. They’re not afraid of making choices and being bold. Which is what life is about too. Life favors the bold.”

Tickets are on sale now at the Surry Arts Council offices at 218 Rockford St. or by phone 336-786-7998. Tickets are $15 each. Show dates are Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m. and Monday at 7:30 p.m.

The musical receives support from the Diane Holcomb Endowment and the NC Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “Big River” is presented through special arrangement with R&H Theatricals.

Director Rory Gilbert places a canoe in a river scene during rehearsals for the Surry Art Council’s production of "Big River," which opens Saturday at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.
http://mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_Big-River-R1.jpgDirector Rory Gilbert places a canoe in a river scene during rehearsals for the Surry Art Council’s production of "Big River," which opens Saturday at the Andy Griffith Playhouse. Hobart Jones | Surry Arts Council

Ken White and Bill Pugsley build a set for "Big River."
http://mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_Big-River-R2.jpgKen White and Bill Pugsley build a set for "Big River." Hobart Jones | Surry Arts Council

Jerome Temoney, left, rehearses his role as Jim in the Surry Arts Council production of “Big River.”
http://mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_160726_BigRiver-44-3.jpgJerome Temoney, left, rehearses his role as Jim in the Surry Arts Council production of “Big River.” Terri Flagg | The News

Huckleberry Finn, portrayed by Andrew Brodeur, hides during a “Big River” rehearsal.
http://mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_160726_BigRiver-32-2.jpgHuckleberry Finn, portrayed by Andrew Brodeur, hides during a “Big River” rehearsal. Terri Flagg | The News

Rory GIlbert, right, directs the cast of “Big River” during a rehearsal Tuesday.
http://mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_160726_BigRiver-8-1.jpgRory GIlbert, right, directs the cast of “Big River” during a rehearsal Tuesday. Terri Flagg | The News

By Terri Flagg

[email protected]

Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.

Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.

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