Huck Finn musical chosen as UW-Richland Theatre spring play

"Big River" with music by Roger Miller

The musical “Big River” has been selected as the spring play at the University of Wisconsin-Richland according to director Andrew Sharp and music director for the production Erin Starks.

"It’s the musical story of Huckleberry Finn. The music is by Roger Miller of ‘King of the Road’ fame,” Sharp said. “I love Roger Miller. Love Huck Finn. Love the show.” 

Information on the official Roger Miller website,, notes that the play, which opened on Broadway in 1985, was a smash hit, earning seven Tony Awards, including Miller’s for best score. Roger Miller is the only country artist to win a Tony Award.

The play brings Twain’s classic 1884 novel to life.  Beginning where “Tom Sawyer” left off, Huck Finn laments his life with the Widow Douglas, who tries to “civilize” him.  His alcoholic and violent father, Pap, kidnaps Huck.  Fearing his father’s drunken rages, Huck escapes to an island and finds Jim, who has escaped from slavery.  Together, they take off on a raft down the Mississippi River to find freedom together. Along the way, Huck and Jim gain two new compatriots, the Duke and the King, who are both humorous and villainous.  Through many escapades and adventures, Huck begins to question the norms of the slave-holding South and learns to see Jim as a friend and a man.  Read more, including character descriptions, at: .

“It’s a large cast and there are opportunities for musicians both on and off stage,” Sharp said.  “We need teenage boys to play Huck Finn, who’s the main character, and Tom Sawyer, and the boys in Tom’s Sawyer’s gang.    We need men of all ages for the Duke and the King, and Judge Thatcher, and the Wilkes brothers and Uncle Silas, and many other parts.  We need women for the Widow Douglass, and Miss Watson, and Mary Jane Wilkes and her sisters, and Aunt Sally and more besides.  Finally, there are several parts that can only be filled by persons of African-American descent.”

In keeping with the setting, the musical features bluegrass and country songs. The script calls for three on-stage musicians—a fiddle player, a guitar player, and a harmonica player—in addition to an off-stage orchestra.  “There are just some great songs in this show,” Sharp said. “My favorite is a duet by Huck and Jim called ‘River in the Rain.’  But, as you would expect from Roger Miller, there are funny songs too, like ‘How About a Hand for the Hog?’”

Although the show is a musical, Sharp encourages everyone to try out, whether or not they can sing.  “There are non-singing and non-dancing parts available for males and females.  For instance, some shows have a Mark Twain character who says nothing- -he’s just there for atmosphere.”  The ensemble will play multiple roles, as slaves, townspeople, tarts, mourners, movers, patients, hired hands and more.

Sharp plans to hold auditions on January 28, 29 and 30, starting at 6:30pm in the Coppertop Theatre on campus, 1200 Highway 14 West in Richland Center. As is customary with UW-Richland Theatre productions, community actors, musicians, technical and support people are encouraged to audition and be involved with the production.  “This is a big show,” says Sharp.  “I’m hoping for a big response from students and the community.”

Rehearsals will generally be held weekday evenings, with some weekend rehearsals as production dates of April 4, 5 and 6 approach. For more information about the play or auditions, contact the director by email at or by calling (608) 647-7373.




Dorothy Thompson
608.647.6186, ext. 231