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A CurtainUp Sneak Peek Feature
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

By Elyse Sommer

On Friday, February 9th, the thirty member cast of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer interrupted their rehearsals at one of the spacious studios of the new 42nd Street Studios to give members of the press a "sneak peak." In case you haven't heard, playwright Ken Ludwig (Crazy For You, Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo) and country music hit composer Don Schlitz have joined forces to transform Mark Twain's novel into an $8 million dollar Broadway musical.

Twain's novel was about children but more than "just a children's story". And while this musical adaptation will probably warrant adding a CurtainUp Kids Okay ages 7 and up button, the source material (which according to Ludwig is closely followed) has enough elements to appeal to all ages: romance, a murder, plus, as Ludwig put it during the sneak peek interview period, "the underlying mythical elements of the soul journeying into the cave and back into the light.

Director Scott Ellis served as our tour guide for the four sample scenes hat were presented, giving us the context of the excerpts and helping us to imagine the setting.

To start with that setting, it sounds quite impressive. As Ellis described it, the first image will be of a painting of Tom and Huck's Vow. This will open onto a sweeping wooden set with a pool actually filled with water for Tom to fish in and, later on, a cave visible from within and without. The first sampling of actors and music was the opening scene showing Tom with his fishing rod at the pool (a circle on the floor of the rehearsal studio).

With his dark curly hair, 24-year-old Joshua Park, has an appealingly mischievous look and his first song in which he rejects the demands of civilization reflects the country western style that won composer-lyricist Don Schlitz his first Grammy. Parks voice is clear and strong and the lyrics serve to establish his character; e.g.- "civilization, civilization/who needs all that exaggeration."

That first scene also introduced us to some of the townspeople of St. Petersburg on the Mississippi River and the first character departure from the book. That change turns Tom's old maiden aunt into Linda Purl as an Aunt Polly who is young and attractive enough to make a double romance inevitable. Aunt Polly's romantic interest being none other than Judge Thatcher (John Dossett), the father of Tom's lady love Becky (20-year old Kristen Bell). We get a glimpse of Tom's friend Huck Finn (Jim Poulous) and the other boys who figure importantly in the "Adventure" part of the story, but not enough to tell you more about their acting and singing strengths.

The second scene presented also came from act one. Here we heard Dossett sing about the problems of raising a child by yourself, a theme logically echoed by Purl. Like the first song, it's melodic and with story-linked lyrics.

The third sample song grows out of a scene featuring Widow Douglas (Jane Connell) Potter (Tom Aldredge) -- apparently an illiterate instead of a drunk, whom she's teaching to read. When he masters all his cue cards he joyfully sings a novelty number about his triumph over the town's low expectation for him.

The final sneak peek provided a glimpse of the drama and trauma of Tom and Becky's near-death experience in the cave and the townspeople's desperate search for the lost children. The singing by the ensemble and Aunt Polly and Judge Thatcher is now filled with prayerful hope and despair ("Dear God, if you need some company/ I've live so long, better take me. . .").

Of course one needs to hear all of the fifteen songs to judge what Don Schlitz and musical director Paul Gemignani have wrought, but I heard enough to come away with a sense of a score that is warm, varied and well integrated with the story. This definitely isn't a dissonant popera style musical. But neither is it a throwback to the musical with the songs you can't stop singing in the shower for days after the show.

What about choreography? There's just so much of a peek that you can get in a half an hour. You'll have to wait and see until the show opens in April. For a mini-refresher on Twain's book -- go to the end of the production details below.

Book by Ken Ludwig, based on the book by Mark Twain
Music and lyrics by Don Schlitz
Directed by Scott Ellis
Cast: Joshua Park (TomSawyer), Jim Poulos (Huck Finn), Kristen Bell (Becky Thatcher), Linda Purl (Aunt Polly), John Dossett (Judge Thatcher), Jane Connell (Widow Douglas), Tom Aldredge (Muff Potter), Kevin Durand (Injun Joe), John Christopher Jones (Dobbins), Tommy Hollis (Sprague), Richard Poe (Lanyard Bellamy and Marshall Pailet (Sid Sawyer).
Additional Cast Members: Stephen Lee Anderson, An Whitlow Brown, Michael Burton, Pierce Cravens, Elan, Stacia Fernandez, Joe Gallagher, Blacke Hackler, Nikki M. James, Donna Lee Marshall, Erik J. McCormack, Amy Jo Phillips, Kate Reinders, Elise Santora, Mekenzie Rosen-Stone, Ric Stoneback, Sally Wilfert, Rommar Wilson. Choreographer: David Marques
Set Design:Heidi Ettinger
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Costume Design: Anthony Powell
Sound Design:Lew Mead
Musical Director: Paul Gemignani
Orchestrations by Michael Starobin
Hair Design: David Brian Brown
Dance and Incidental Music: David Krane
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Dialect Coach: Kate Wilson
Minskoff, 200 W. 45th St. (7th/8th Avs) 307-4100
From 4/03/01; opening 4/26/01. Tues-Sat. at 8pm, Wed ad Sat at 2pm, Sun at 3pm. Tkts--$35-$85

Details About the Plot

For those unfamiliar with the story, here's Twain's plot in a nutshell:

Mischievous Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly in St. Petersburg on the Mississippi River. He falls in love with Becky Thatcher, the new girl in town, and convinces her to get "engaged" but their romance ends when she learns that he had been engaged before.

When Tom accompanies Huckleberry Finn to the graveyard at night to try out a "cure" for warts, they witness the murder of young Doctor Robinson by the part-Indian "half-breed," Injun Joe. They swear a blood oath not to tell anyone what they saw. Injun Joe blames Muff Potter, a hapless drunk, for the crime. Potter is arrested, and meanwhile, Tom, Huck, and Tom's friend Joe Harper run away to an island to become pirates. They return a few days later, and interrupt their own funeral. A little later, Tom is restored to Becky's favor when accepts the blame for a book ripped by her. He also testifies at the trial of Muff Potter who is acquitted leading Injun Joe to flee the courtroom through a window.

Summer arrives, and when Tom and Huck go hunting for buried treasure in a "ha'nted house", they spy on Injun Joe, disguised as a deaf and dumb Spaniard, and see him and a partner find a box of gold and carry it to another hiding place. While Huck shadows Injun Joe, Tom goes on a picnic to McDougal's Cave with Becky, where the two become lost in the cavern. Meanwhile, Huck saves the Widow Douglas from being attacked by Injun Joe, and the entire town begins to search for the missing Becky and Tom. Looking for a way out, Tom spots Injun Joe in the cave. Eventually, just as the searchers are giving up, Tom finds a way out. The town celebrates, and Becky's father, Judge Thatcher, locks up the cave. Injun Joe, trapped inside, starves to death. A week later Tom takes Huck to the cave and they find the box of gold, which is given to Judge Thatcher to invest for them. Widow Douglas adopts Huck, and when he attempts to escape civilized life, Tom promises him that if he returns to the Widow, he can join Tom's robber band.

The novel grew out of Twain's personal memories of growing up in Hannibal in the 1840's. An introduction to the novel states that "most of the adventures recorded in this book really occurred," and that the character of Tom Sawyer was an amalgm of three boys he had known. The other characters too evolved from people he knew. Unlike Tom Sawyer, has been generally accepted as an idyllic picture of boyhood life along the Mississippi and has escaped the scrutiny about politically incorrect language and attitude of the novel considered to be his masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn, There were two Tom Sawyer sequels, Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective but they never rivalled the popularity of the first book.

2001 CD-ROM Deluxe

The Broadway Theatre Archive

©Copyright 2001, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp
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