Big River rolls into Northern Colorado’s Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Big River, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Lively and Keith Hatten as Jim and Huckleberry Finn in "Big River," now playing. Courtesy photo from Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Huck Finn has made his way to the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and has been welcomed with open arms. “Big River, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” originally performed on Broadway in the late 1980s, opened at Candlelight on Father’s Day.

When I came to the Candlelight for “The King & I,” the actors had a lot to live up to – and they did -but I had no such expectations for “Big River.”  I have no emotionally attachment to Huck Finn or Mark Twain. I don’t remember reading any Twain in school, and I only vaguely knew the story, so I had no preconceived notions about this play.

I attended a weekend matinee performance, and it was a delightful respite from the hot Colorado summer. The well-appointed Candlelight was buzzing with a large Sunday afternoon crowd of both the very young and the not so very young. A reflection of the audience sat at our table which included my six-year-old niece, my thirty something sister-in-law and my mother-in-law.

The menu at Candlelight is modified for each show. While “The King & I” featured food with an Asian flare, “Big River” features southern comfort food. Blackened catfish, Creole pasta, southern style herb roasted chicken and Cajun meatloaf are the main dishes included in the ticket price.  The upgraded items were the Candlelight’s signature prime rib ($12), St. Louis style short ribs ($11) and New Orleans style shrimp scampi ($10).

Sadly, the kitchen was out of the roasted chicken on our visit.  My mother-in-law and sister-in-law both ordered a Candlelight garden salad with summer chicken salad on top. Unfortunately these meals proved disappointing to my companions who didn’t enjoy the chicken salad portion of the dish.

Big River at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
The children in the audience especially loved when Huck Finn dressed up as a girl. Courtesy photo from Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

The “just for kids” blue blinking drink, however, was a huge hit with my niece and the other children in the theater. On the waiter’s suggestion I ordered the Cajun meatloaf, which was a huge portion of spicy meat. I liked it, but I’ve since heard rave reviews about the shrimp scampi, so I wish I’d ordered the upgrade. We all absolutely loved the cornbread served throughout the meal with sweet butter.

For intermission we ordered several desserts Рthe lemon sorbet, cherry bread pudding with rum sauce and the coffee cr̬me brule̩ Рand all were well received by the dessert fans at our table.

“Big River” is delightful. The cast is energetic and the raft moves across the stage in a most convincing way. For me, the songs and live band are what stood out in this production. The duets between Huck and Jim were downright phenomenal. The harmony between the three Wilkes sisters is so good it sent shivers up and down my spine.

While children are often assigned to read this book in school, I think this play is more appropriate for kids over 10. That being said, although she was a little heavy lidded during parts, my six-year-old niece never took her eyes off the stage. She loved the musical numbers and she giggled uncontrollably every time a man dressed up in women’s clothing.

While I do not have a connection to this story, it felt that many in the audience did, and they seemed most pleased with this production. Keith Hatten, as Jim, is an absolute star on stage, and his duets with Mark Lively (Huck Finn) were exceptionally moving.

Despite some disappointment in our meals (for the first time ever at this venue) the Candlelight’s talented performers have impressed once again. If you haven’t been to the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, I’d urge you to experience the amazing talent Northern Colorado has to offer.

“Big River” plays through August 21, and children under 12 are free with a paying adult. Upcoming shows include “Annie Warbucks,” “Scrooge, the Musical,” “Cole Porter’s Anything Goes,” and “Oklahoma.”

Ticket prices for adults range from $45.50 to $57.50. Tickets include dinner and the show. There is also show-only seating available in the balcony for $29.50. For more information visit  www.coloradocandlelight.com or call (970) 744-3747.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is just off of I25 about 40 minutes north of dinner and 25 minutes south of Fort Collins. The address 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, Colorado.

Note from the Mayor: This production of “Big River” stays true to Twain’s voice and does not attempt to whitewash the language of the play. There is some swearing and the occasional use of the “n” word sprinkled throughout. It is not done in an offensive manner and I think this is a good opportunity for parents to discuss this part of American history with their children. I applaud the Candlelight for staying true to Twain.

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