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Paulanne Simmons

Life on the Mississippi is Good

Richard Kent Green (front) with (l-r) Jeff Paul, Andrew Hubacher, Dewey Caddell, and Max Demers in Life on the Mississippi. Photo by Gerry Goodstein

Life on the Mississippi
Directed by Susanna Frazer
The WorkShop Theater Main Stage
312 West 36 Street, 4th Floor
From Nov. 1, 2013
Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm, Sundays at 3pm
Closes Nov. 23, 2013
Tickets: $15-$18 www.workshoptheater.org
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 11, 2013

Broadway musicals make their mark with big names and big production numbers. Yet off-Broadway, many companies produce high quality shows on limited budgets. These shows have small but talented casts and scaled-down but extremely effective sets and costumes.Workshop Theater Company proves this point with its newest musical, Life on the Mississippi.

Based on Mark Twain’s autobiographical work, the show has a book by Philip W. Hall, who also wrote the music and lyrics. The cast of eight is directed by Susanna Frazer and backed by Sam Peach and Anthony Rubbo, both on guitar mandolin and banjo; and Su-Fan Yu on violin. The country/blues music the band produces is joyous and wonderful.

The book, Life on the Mississippi, recounts Twain’s experience as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi, a career every young boy aspired to if he lived along the great river in the mid-eighteenth century. The play dramatizes that section in which Twain, or young Sam (Andrew Hubacher) ascends from a mere cub to a full-fledged captain.

Sam’s brother, Henry (Steven Louis Kane) goes along as cabin boy. And Sam is mentored by one of the ship’s captains, Horace Bixby (Jeff Paul), who gives him sound advice accompanied by colorful expletives. But in the ship’s co-captain, Brown (Mark Coffin), Sam finds a fearsome enemy who tries to thwart him at every turn.

If all of this sounds a bit short on plot, in many ways this is the case. However, Hall supplies enough conflict through Sam’s interactions with the two pilots and his brother’s unfortunate fate to keep the show rolling as smoothly as the Mississippi. The lively songs and dances help too.

Hubacher is admirable and earnest as Sam, and Kane is sweetly naive as Henry. Coffin is a good villain (who can sing and dance too). And Paul is especially believable as the crusty but benevolent captain. John McDermott’s set, dominated by the ship’s wheel and the sign above it announcing the ship’s name, Paul Jones, is simple but quite effective at conveying place and time.

Going down the Mississippi with young Sam may be one of the nicest theatrical trips audiences can take this season.


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