Catawba stages 'Huck Finn'

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 12, 2012

By Katie Higgins
For The Salisbury Post
Catawba College’s production of the musical, “Huck Finn,” will pay tribute to “Mr. Music” of Salisbury, 94-year-old Billy Burke, a college alumnus. The musical, based on Mark Twain’s classic, “The Tales of Huckleberry Finn,” will be performed in Keppel Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 19 through Saturday, April 21, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 22. The April 22 matinee will be presented by the Rowan County Concert Association.
The musical begins on the Mississippi River after Huck escapes from his drunkard father and unites with a runaway slave named Jim. These two unexpected companions take a magical journey bound by their friendship during which they face the challenges of life on the run and the best and the worst of the mid-nineteenth century.
During Huck’s journey of self-discovery, he meets some very comical, yet impactful characters who ultimately shape his view of society and his friendship with Jim. Although the story is told mainly from Huck’s perspective, to say it is merely a play about him would be inaccurate. Jim’s role in Huck’s inner discovery and the story itself is crucial to the underlying message of the play: that the greatest friendship can occur in the most unlikely of places.
Catawba’s 2012 production of “Huck Finn” marks the third time that the musical has been presented on Catawba’s stage. It was first offered in1954, then again in 1958 with music that Burke wrote for the production. Although timid to accept the offer at first back in 1954, Burke began with just two original songs, but eventually wrote all 15 songs performed during the show.
Burke has been on hand during this year’s production process, always encouraging the cast. At a recent rehearsal, he had a chance to meet the entire ensemble and even sing along with the cast as they practiced his song, “All Aboard.” He also took the opportunity to reminisce with the show’s director, Dave Pulliam. Burke says he is excited about the “Huck Finn” revival and trusts Pulliam to “take care of his baby.”
Pulliam has added a character — “The White-Suited Gentleman”— created to represent the author, Mark Twain. His presence allows Huck the opportunity to defy the author and allows for some comical banter between the two.
In this year’s production, Pulliam has had the opportunity to cast from a more diverse group of students. In the 1950s productions, white students played the African-American characters in black face. Both Burke and Pulliam are happy to bring the show into a new era. Burke said he believes things have “certainly changed for the better.”
Pulliam’s excitement has been obvious during the rehearsal process. He had been looking to produce the show for the past several years, he said, but did not have a diverse enough group of students to pull it off until now. Perhaps Pulliam’s biggest casting change, however, is choosing female Robin Tynes to play the role of Huck Finn. Tynes, a senior, has been a major part of Catawba’s theatre department for the past four years. “I’ve never played a cross-gender role before,” Tynes said, “but I love the adventure and energy of Huck.”
While the show is largely upbeat and comical, it discusses major issues of that time, such as slavery, discrimination, and comments on the hypocrisy of Huck’s society.
The cast includes seniors Robin Tynes, Brad Boaz, Canaan Cox, Ka’shara Davis and Jered Shults; juniors Alicia Almodovar, Kylie Beinke, Courtney Cowman, Brianna Markle, Rayshaun Sandlin, Tatianna Long, Sara Coon, Katie Hopkins, Ashton Tibbitt and Tyler Elrod; sophomores Jura Davis, Jordan Clifton, Allison Andrews, Amanda Clements and freshmen Shannon O’Donnell, Maggie Saunders, Iliana Rivera, Laura Williams, Chelsea Retalic, Verity Pryor-Harden; Pen Chance, Amanda Becker, Emily Olszewski, Patrick Moore, Katyln Shaw, Ashley O’Donnell and Michelle Newberger.
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“Huck Finn” tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for senior citizens and non-Catawba students. Parents are advised that the production may be disturbing to elementary aged and younger children due to the show’s language and violent situations.
For more details, please call the Catawba College Theatre Box Office at 704-637-4481.