Kirkwood Presents Big River, Featuring Iowa Native in Starring Role; Benefit for Museum
A classic American story will receive a powerful musical treatment at Kirkwood Community College. The Performing Arts department will present the Broadway musical Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in Ballantyne Auditorium on the main campus. Weekend performances are set for Oct. 24 through Nov. 2.
The student production will get a boost from an Iowa native with nationwide credentials. Mark Wilson will play the central role of Jim in Big River. He grew up in central Iowa and graduated from Simpson College in Indianola. Wilson was a regional finalist for the Metropolitan Opera and has won numerous awards for his powerful vocal performances. He has performed with many regional opera companies including the local companies of Orlando, Memphis, Tulsa and the Delaware Valley.
Mark Wilson is now a music professor at Monmouth University and a teacher for Ridgewood Conservatory in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The Kirkwood performances of Big River mark a “triumphal return” for Wilson to his home state, according to the college’s Arts Specialist Arbe Bareis.
“To see Mark take total command of the stage and Jim’s multi-faceted role is going to be a delight for the audience and our students alike. The range of his vocal talent is easily matched by the depth of feeling and insight Mark brings to this musical role. We think people will be talking about Mark, the show and its overall impact for a long time,” Bareis added.
Kirkwood’s production of Big River is directed by Rick D. Anderson, with vocal direction by Ray Salucka. Stage design and lighting are by Doug Anderson, with choreography by Lisa Pettit and costumes by Annee Noah. Rick Anderson calls the show “a chance to look deep inside ourselves” on crucial American topics as well as an entertaining musical.
“We will transport people to a pre-Civil War time along the Mississippi and come to terms with the African American experience. I was drawn to the play for two big reasons: First, Roger Miller’s score is fantastic, plus we have the chance to investigate racism in America. When Huck decides to help Jim escape slavery he puts his future, his very life on the line. As he says in the show, ‘As long as I am in, and in for good, I might as well go whole hog!’ We get to ask ourselves if we are that courageous, to stand up and make a difference,” Anderson said.
With music and lyrics by famed popular composer Roger Miller and book by William Hautman, Big River was a runaway hit during its 1980s Broadway run and won seven Tony Awards, including Best Score and Best Musical. The show played for more than 1,000 performances in its initial run and enjoyed a successful revival in 2003-04.
Reflecting the realities and needs of the local community, Kirkwood has pledged proceeds from one night of the musical’s run to aid the African-American Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa. Ticket sales from the Nov. 1 show will aid the flood relief fund to recover the museum from the June 2008 disaster.
The October 26 performance will feature Stephen Banks in the role of Jim. The Cedar Rapids Jefferson high school graduate is pursuing a liberal arts degree at Kirkwood with a major focus in music.
“This is a great opportunity for a talented student vocalist and actor to shine in this pivotal role. Stephen has worked very hard to prepare and focus his energies for the understudy role. No one understands this better than Mark Wilson, so we all will appreciate and benefit from this added dimension to the show,” Rick Anderson observed.
Tickets for Kirkwood’s production of Big River are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and students with current ID. Kirkwood faculty, staff and students will be admitted free of charge. Reserved tickets are available from Kirkwood Student Life, (319) 398-5578.