Young cast brings enthusiasm to ‘Tom Sawyer: The Musical’


“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: The Musical” features, from left, Marissa Vairo as Becky Thatcher, Amanda Gramig as Susie Rogers, Shaina Smola as Elanor Harper, Alex Christophy as Tom Sawyer and Chris Shaw as Huckleberry Finn through Aug. 4 at the Gainesville Community Playhouse.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 1:19 p.m.

These kids are terrific.

Facts

‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: The Musical’

What: Gainesville Community Playhouse production of musical based on Mark Twain’s novel
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 4.
Where: Vam York Theater, 4039 NW 16th Blvd.
Tickets: $16, $10 for students with ID and children
Info: 376-4949, gcplayhouse.org

That’s not a spoiler alert, it’s a fun fact.

“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: The Musical” is a perfect summer ending to a stellar Gainesville Community Playhouse season.

And what makes it so much fun to watch is the sheer energy and enthusiasm of its mostly young cast; freshly plucked out of their classrooms at Gainesville, Eastside, Buchholz and other area high schools and plunked down into the sleepy Mississippi River town of St. Petersburg, circa 1840.

Whoever said youth is wasted on the young clearly has not seen this play.

The story itself is as familiar as those sepia photos of Mark Twain’s craggy visage. The whitewash fence caper, the murder in the graveyard, the fight in the cave, the big surprise at the funeral. But familiarity in this case breeds smiles, not contempt. These actors are clearly having so much fun themselves that it would be churlish for the audience not to respond in kind.

Alex Christophy, a Gainesville High School junior, is Tom, our barefoot boy with cheek. He doesn’t like school, yawns in church, can spell every state in the union in under a minute and is stunned to learn that Robin Hood isn’t in the Bible.

“Well he oughta be,” he exclaims, indignantly.

Alex kicks up his heels, wears a Cheshire Cat grin under his unkempt mop and raggedy straw hat and taps into the inner rascal in all of us.

Who of us, after all, has not dreamed of flummoxing the stuffed-shirt teacher, swapping chewing gum with that special someone and escaping certain death in the final reel?

When first we see Huck Finn, played with attitude and grit by Eastside senior Chris Shaw, he strolls on stage with a dead cat in a bag, a studied indifference to all things civilized and, of course, his signature corncob pipe.

The chemistry between Huck/Tom-Alex/Chris is exactly what you would expect from BFFs. Teenage trash talk may have changed considerably in 172 years, but the tone and tune remain the same.

Speaking of tunes, GHS junior Marissa Vairo sings like the angel that Becky Thatcher is reputed to be in the final, farcical funeral scene. Her Becky is prim, proper and the perfect foil to Tom’s and Huck’s goofy buffoonery.

The cast of “Tom Sawyer,” 28 strong, seems large enough to populate Twain’s St. Petersburg all by themselves. But some performances deserve mentioning.

The duet between Aunt Polly (played by Alex’s mother, Susan Christophy) and widower Judge Thatcher (Stephen Griffin) as they lament the heartbreaks and challenges of “raising a child by yourself” is touching and should strike a chord with every parent, single or not.

And Ed MacKay’s Injun Joe — with his Rhode Island-sized scar and mile-wide leer — is evil writ large. “Nobody hides a knife like me,” he brags, and then proceeds to prove it.

“Huckleberry Finn” is a family affair in more ways than one. Mother Susan and son Alex are directed by husband and father Dan Christophy. Injun Joe’s MacKay has brought along his son Liam and daughter Fiona to play young Sidney Sawyer and younger Betsy Hollis. Gordon Tremaine plays Lanyard Bellamy, while his son, Michael is Muff Potter.

And that’s all to the good, because “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” is very much the stuff of family entertainment. So bring the children, bring grandma, bring the whole clan.

Because these kids are terrific.

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