When audiences come to see the University of Wisconsin-Richland Theatre’s “Big River,” the production’s music director Erin (Pierson) Starks expects that they’ll feel like they’re on the Mississippi River along with Huck Finn. “People will recognize so many of the songs,” she said. “They’ll be singing them on the way home—songs like ‘Muddy Water,’ ‘I, Huckleberry, Me,’ ‘River in the Rain,’ and ‘Worlds Apart.’”
Starks is enthusiastic about all the music in the play. “Roger Miller—of “King of the Road” fame-- put together an award-winning Bluegrass/Country Music score for ‘Big River,’” she said. “The pit band includes harmonica, guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle, among other instruments. Several numbers will get your toes tapping and your hands clapping. Country Ballads and more reverent songs will tug on your heart strings.”
She knows every note of the music in “Big River,” as she’s rehearsal accompanist, vocal director and director of the pit band for the production. “I have the awesome privilege of teaching one of my all-time favorite scores to a GREAT group of talented singers,” she said. “Audiences are going to be so impressed by the local talent. The actors are doing such great work getting into their Southern characters.”
An alumnus of UW-Richland, Starks has been making music since she was a little girl—playing piano, guitar, saxophone, and singing. “I was fortunate to have excellent music instructors in middle school, high school and college,” she said. For the past nine years, she’s taught private piano and voice lessons to about 20-30 students each week. She’s accompanied UW-Richland, Richland Center High School, and other school choirs. She’s been a member of the pit band for a number of Richland Community Players productions and served as music director for their 2011 production of “Annie.”
Starks said, “I was the female lead in the 2006 Richland Center High School production of ‘The Music Man’ and I continued to be on stage in several Community Player’s productions after that. I don’t care if I’m on-stage, backstage, or underneath the stage! I love the family that gets created with every production. Theatre people are just fun.”
In fact, the line between cast and family is especially blurry for Starks when it comes to the cast/crew family of “Big River.” For Michael Starks, who plays the role of Jim, she’s currently his music director and she’s his wife, too.
Performances are scheduled for 7:30pm on Friday, April 4; 7:30pm on Saturday, April 5; and 1:30pm on Sunday, April 6. Tickets are $10 and will be sold at the door prior to each performance. The Coppertop Theatre, located in the Wallace Student Center on campus, is at 1200 Highway 14 West in Richland Center. For more information, contact director Andrew Sharp by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the campus at (608) 647-6186. ###