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STEFANI DIAS: Riding 'River' down to Stars

Stars Theatre Restaurant heads back down the Mississippi this weekend with the opening of ”Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." This is the third adaptation of the musical based on Mark Twain's tale of poor teen Huckleberry Finn and Jim, a slave who takes off with Finn down the river as they try to escape their respective troubles.

Previous versions have included 1992 and 2009, starring Kevin Berthiaume and Kito Cin'j and Mason Trueblood and Maceo Davis in the lead roles.

Amber O'Reilly, who co-directed the show with fellow youth summer workshop partner Frank Sierra, said they felt a connection with the show's past at Stars.

She wrote in an email, "We also dedicated our version of 'Big River' to our good friend Maceo Davis, who is no longer with us, but we felt his spirit in every step of the cultivation of this show."

In the current production, Lucas Shearson and Mason Edwards take on the roles of Huck and Jim. 

Of the pair, O'Reilly said, "Lucas and Mason have vividly captured these literary characters and brought them to life and stage with ease."

Rounding out the main cast are Mark Price as violent drunk Pap Finn; Jacob Chivington as Huck's pal Tom Sawyer; Laurie Howlett as the Widow Douglas, Melinda Mejia as her sister, Miss Watson; Norman Colwell as Judge Thatcher; and Kevin McDonald and Jake Wattenbarger as the King and the Duke, two con men who make trouble for Huck and Jim.

While the book is required reading in most high schools, not as many people have seen the musical. O'Reilly said audiences shouldn't expect a big departure from the source material.

"For those who read the book, they can expect a very close adaptation from book to play," she said. "A lot of the dialogue is quoted exactly from the book."

Where the show gets really creative is in the staging, O'Reilly said.

"Gabe Urena helped bring it to life with his stunning lighting and Cory McCall captured the Deep South feel with his captivating set."

Since so much of the show involves raft time on the river, designers built an apron in front of the stage so the raft can thrust forward (as if out into the audience) when it hits the river.

Incredibly authentic pre-Civil War costumes by Laura Engle also help set the scene, the co-director said.

The music is another key force in the show, with songs that will set your heart on fire, O'Reilly said.

"Whether it is a tender ballad or a deep, Down South upbeat diddy, Roger Miller’s score has made him an unlikely genius," she said. "It is simple, but poignant ... the lyrics are 'tongue in cheek' and inspirational at every appropriate moment in the show!" 

"Big River" opens this weekend and runs through March 24.

Let's get Dancing!

We'll have more in the coming weeks on the annual Dancing at the Stars competition at Stars Theatre Restaurant but the first exciting news is the contestant lineup. Nine couples will vie for the trophy on April 7: attorney Elliott Magnus and Ann Conrad; Eyewitness News anchor Erin Briscoe and Shay Brandon Burke; accountant Marianne Keathley and Cody Garcia; Wayde Kirschenman, president of Kirschenman Enterprises Inc., and Marnie Forzetting; Marvin St. Pierre, retired projects manager for Aera Energy, and Marilyn Stone; Chris Hoover, Kern County firefighter, and Bethany Rowlee; Leigh Pozas, owner of Total Woman, and Roland Brown; Deputy District Attorney Tara Deal and David Moreno; and commercial real estate agent Boyd Binninger and Tara Shearer.

In its fourth year, the competition is a major fundraiser for the Chester Avenue theater, raising $56,000 last year. Preview night is April 6 and the main performance is on April 7. Tickets are $30 for the preview, $100 for the main night, available by calling 325-6100 or at the Stars box office, 1931 Chester Ave.

In search of 'Boxcar Children'

Budding performers looking for a show need go no further than Bakersfield Community Theatre this weekend. The theater will hold auditions for its upcoming youth production "The Boxcar Children."

The show is based on the series of books following the spirited Alden children who managed to stay plucky during the Great Depression. Orphans in danger of being sent to separate homes, the children run away, making their home in an abandoned boxcar and attempting to stay together despite all odds.

Auditions will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at BCT, 2400 S. Chester Ave. Parking is available behind the theater off of O Street. Performers from ages 8 to 17 are welcome to audition, and the program is free to participate.

Performances will take place at 7 p.m. May 4 and 5 and 2 p.m. May 6. 

Those with further questions can contact director Mashell Bridges at, or producers Vickie Stricklind (444-7323) or Tim Fromm (703-1492).

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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