SCERA Shell undergoes transformation for ‘Big River’

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Zack Elzey will play Huckleberry Finn and Jonathan Gustavson will play Jim in the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre’s production of “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” (Photo by Rachael Gibson)

The SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre is undergoing a transformation for its second production of the summer season. Set designers Teri Griffin and Kurt Elison have created a “natural” wonder — a 10-foot wide river — on stage.

“The water will be in a six-inch-high trough, and the water never empties,” explained director Jerry Elison. “When we need dry land, we use a boardwalk made of flats that covers it. We have a raft that floats off the harbor that we maneuver with poles down the river, and the raft is hooked to a block and tackle to pull it back up the river. We have had a few little challenges — such as finding a way to treat the water to avoid mosquitoes — but we are confident the river with be a great highlight.”

The stage transformations are all part of creating the world where two mischievous boys can carry out their antics and where a slave can escape servitude in “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

“Big River” shares the tale based on Mark Twain’s novel. Set in pre-Civil War Missouri, “Big River” follows the story of Huck Finn, a young man adopted by Widow Douglas and her spinster sister Miss Watson. When his caretakers want him to learn to read and write, Huck finds solace in Jim, Miss Watson’s slave who doesn’t pressure Huck like the rest of the town. Later in the story as Huck is escaping his drunken father, Huck encounters Jim, who is attempting to escape life as a slave. The play continues with their adventures along the Mississippi.

While the musical takes on the serious topic of slavery, there are a variety of lighter moments. Elison applauds Twain for creating characters who are so humorous. “The whole thing is just clever,” Elison says as he listed off the tricks Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer execute.

To bring this classic novel to life at the outdoor theater, Zack Elzey will play Huckleberry Finn and Jonathan Gustavson will play Jim.

“I have a wonderful group of young people to work with,” Elison said. “The talent in Utah Valley is absolutely amazing. This Huck Finn will be a senior in the fall at Lone Peak High School. He is so talented, and he’s such a pleasant, hardworking young man. And, with Jim, they’ve worked together so well.”

Keeping to roots of the south, the musical includes country, bluegrass and gospel songs. The musical — which earned multiple Tony Awards in 1985 — features songs such as “Do You Wanna Go to Heaven,” “The Boys,” “Worlds Apart”and more.

“Big River” opens July 6 and continue through July 21 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre in Orem, Utah. The show begins at 8 p.m. each night. Tickets cost $10–$14 for children and $12–$16 for adults. Learn more about the musical at scera.org.

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Rebecca Lane

While her first language is sarcasm, Rebecca dabbles in English and Russian to achieve her lifelong dream of being a journalist. A BYU sports fan, reading enthusiast and wannabe world traveler, Rebecca is a Colorado transplant that is convinced Colorado's mountains are much larger than the many Utah County peaks. Rebecca manages UtahValley360.com for Bennett Communications. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccalane.

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