RIVER OF SONG
An Entertaining Folk Musical History
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA -- 20l9 Regional Theatre Tony Award (R) winner TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, continues its 50th Season by taking the audience on a "historic musical tour" along the Mississippi River, in the West Coast Premiere of the musical "Mark Twain's River of Song"
Described by an actor impersonating MARK TWAIN, the musical, written by RANDAL MYLER and DAN WHEETMAN, directed by RANDAL Y MYLER , transports the audience, vicariously, to the year l883 when, TWAIN (DAN HIATT) tells the audience that at the age of 21, he worked as a steamboat pilot in the Mississippi River and as he starts describing what he saw, we see the sights projected on a screen. behind the stage, as black and white photographs, or as a short movies. At intervals, we also see the people he saw, represented by different actors, playing folk music, or singing the songs, either as a solo singer or by a choir,that he heard sang on the river banks during his trips. Among the songs, in short dramatized skits played by the musicians/actors, we also hear bits of dialogue from the many stories that he later wrote based on his trips. So the musical is a combination of MARK TWINE memories from the people he saw (most of them field workers from the plantations in the bank of The Mississipi) and the music he heard, during his trips as a pilot, and during another, longer steamboat trip from San Louis, Missouri, to New Orleans, after the Civil War.
To give the audience a visual idea of the length of the Mississippi River, hanging over the back wall of the stage at The Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, where the work is presented, is a large map of the Eastern United States showing the route of the Mississippi River as a Black line extending from Lake Itasca, in Northern Minnesota, running down through 10 States emptying into the Gulf of Mexico in New Orleans, Louisiana.
On the stage, we see a few string instruments piled on a corner on stage left, and on stage right, a comfortable arm chair next to a small round table covered by a fancy tablecloth, with a candle on top. As MARK TWAIN (HIATT) stands from that chair, he begins talking to the audience about his life, growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, a town located on the Mississippi's banks.
And as MARK TWAIN (HIATT) talks, the projections (Designed by Scenic and Media Designer DAVID LEE CUTHBERT) of black and white photographs show us the sights: the cotton fields, the plantations, the streets, the cars, the houses and the casinos, and short films, the steamboats floating along the Mississipi River, ringing a bell and spouting black smoke.,
In between the projections, we hear the music. Some instrumental, played in a fiddle, banjo, guitar, washboard, harmonica and tambourines. The songs are sang as a solo song or as a choir. There are sad and happy songs which include clapping their hands and stomping their feet as they dance. The musical ensemble includes VALISIA LeKAE, A Tony Awards and Grammy nominated singer. TONY MARCUS. RONDRELL McCORMICK, CHIC STREET MAN, and DAN WHEETMAN.
Composed by DAN WHEETMAN, the music includes original songs and some traditional folk music with lyrics written by WHEETMAN. Most of the lyrics are about subjects that are familiar to the field workers: "The Wild Lumberjack" "Rovin' Gambler," "River," "Cat Fish" "Going Up River" but there are others in which the character may reveal to us his/her inner feelings. One of the most soulful songs that night was sang by LeKAE with a lot of feeling. We may define its subject as the lament a hopelessness young girl after being separated from her sister and family when, at the slave market, she was sold to a different buyer.
There are 22 songs in the musical and each one of them was well interpreted, in the voices of their singers or in their instruments, but like in any performance, there are always interpretations, that the audience likes better for one reason or another, so, it would have helped us critics, if printed on the program with the name of each song, had been included the name or names of those who interpreted the song or performed it in an instrument, for us to be able to give them, in writing , the recognition they deserved.
Using the timeless Mississippi River as the set of the story, and the "voice" of the real MARK TWAIN because MYLER, the musical's playwright, wrote in the program that he used the words and sayings of TWAIN's lectures, books, and newspapers articles for the actor soliloquy. the story goes on until it end.
And until the end, TWAIN's words are witty and humorous because MARK TWAIN was a humorous writer. He was born SAMUEL LANGHORNE CLEMENS in Florida, Missouri in November 30, l835. and died on April 21, l9l0. He spent his early childhood in Hannibal, a town located on the banks of the Mississippi River and dreamed of being a pilot in a riverboat. When he became a pilot at the age of 21, he changed his name to "MARK TWAIN" a nautical term that was the name given to the mark of water in the Mississipi River that was safe for the riverboats to navigate in it.
After the civil world in l861, MARK TWAIN moved to Nevada and started working as a journalist for a newspaper in Virginia City. As a writer, he travelled around the world. His humorous pieces included a number of articles, lectures and books on different subject but we know him best for two of his books: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
So, it is appropriate that the show ends with a musical skit based on "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" represented by VALISIA LEKAE playing the role of Huck, and RONDRELL McCORMICK playing the role of Jim, the runaway slave. The skit was short but allowed LEKAE to fully display her acting ability and McCORMICK to display, his sonorous beautiful tone of voice. As a musical, "Mark Twain: RIVER OF SONG" is an entertaining educational piece of American folk music and literature history. It adds another winner production to TheatreWorks.
Mark Twain: RIVER OF SONG will continue at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041 until October 27, 2019. For information or to order tickets call (650) 463-1960 or go online to theatergoers.