Blog Archives

Shepherd University is doing one of my all-time favorite musicals…

…Candide is coming in February. For those of you in the Shepherd, WV, area who are not familiar with this, what I think is Leonard Bernstein‘s best show, here is Bernstein himself conducting the Overture shortly before he died. Just a taste to get you interested:

Obama! A Modern U.S. President (musical spoof)

This spectacular piece from Ronnie Butler Jr:

“Big River” at Shepherd

While we were looking for a movie tonite we discovered that there was nothing playing we really wanted to see… then, by chance, I checked the Shepherd schedule and noticed that the Music Department production of the Roger Miller musical “Big River” had an 8 PM performance, so that is where Elly and I went for Valentine’s Day Eve.

Great production! I am always so impressed by the student voices in Shepherd musicals. Director Mark McCoy did a superb job putting this together and Elly and I had a great time.

Roger Miller only wrote one musical and this interpretation of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is it. It won all the Tonys in 1985…and deserved them.

This is from the Roger Miller Official Web Site:

The story of Big River is as fantastic as any of Roger’s life. The key man was Rocco Landesman, a former Yale professor at the Yale School of Drama who happened to be the world’s #1 Roger Miller fan.
“I thought he was an absolute genius,” Landesman says. On the way to a New York appearance by Roger at the Lone Star Cafe, Landesman conceived the notion that Miller ought to write a Broadway score – and the Adventures of Huckelberry Finn would be the perfect vehicle. He approached Roger’s wife, Mary, after the show. She encouraged him to write a letter to Roger with the idea. Roger jokes, “He made me an offer I couldn’t understand.”
Nevertheless, Landesman wrote a number of letters to Miller and about a year later had him convinced he was the right man for the project. Roger was off on another new journey. Landesman commissioned William Hauptman to adapt Twain’s book and the project was underway.
Roger, initially intimidated, spent a year and a half on the first phase of the musical. He was “writing from every corner of my heart,” as he put it. The play opened at Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre, then moved to La Jolla, California, where a struggling young actor named John Goodman took the role of Huck’s father, Pap. In the play, Pap’s feature song is “Guv’ment”, which Roger wrote while thinking about the uncle who raised him. Elmer Miller didn’t drink like Pap, but he did “used to cuss out the government,” Roger said.

video clip

Big River opened at New York’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre on April 25, 1985, during one of the bleakest seasons in the history of the Great White Way. The press offered the hope, which they clearly considered him, that Big River might save the day.
As it turned out, the play was a smash hit, earning seven Tony Awards, including Miller’s for best score. When Goodman left the role for the movies, Roger took over his part for three months. He also made an album on MCA, called Roger Miller, on which he sang several songs from the play, including “Guv’ment” and the magnificent “River in the Rain”.

Miller died in his mid 50s in 1992 of lung cancer. Big River was his biggest achievement in a pretty full country music career.

Now, I’m sorry to say there is only one more performance of this piece… tomorrow afternoon (Sunday) at 3:00 PM.  Fortunately all tickets for this are on a first come first served basis… there are no advance reservations… so get there 1/2 hour early and you’ll have no trouble getting in to the Frank Center.