Life is fine with Tom

by Julie Grabowski
Tri-City Voice – January 10, 2012

Take a little wander down South, sit a spell by the Mississippi River, and join Tom, Huck and the gang in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” presented by StarStruck Theatre, running through January 22.

The classic Mark Twain novel comes to the stage with catchy songs and dancing shoes, courtesy of Ken Ludwig (book) and Don Schiltz (music and lyrics). The show had its Broadway debut in 2001 and after a brief run, trickled down to regional and community theaters.

“Tom Sawyer, the musical, is full of humor, danger and excitement,” said Lori Stokes, StarStruck’s artistic director. “I believe it is a ‘hidden treasure’ of a show that deserves its day in the spotlight, and I am thrilled to be able to introduce the stage version of this classic story to a new audience-especially the next generation of young people.”

Called “the prince of darkness” by his Aunt Polly, Tom is a vibrant, lighthearted boy who only longs for excitement and adventure and escape from boring same old ways of life. But amid skipping school, tricking boys into doing his work, and scheming for Bible tickets to impress his love Becky Thatcher, Tom gets more excitement than he bargains for when he and best pal, Huckleberry Finn, witness a murder.

From fishing in the river and enduring an annoying little brother to a murder trial, a dangerous encounter in McDougal’s Cave, buried treasure, and a triple funeral, a boy’s life has never been more interesting.

While labeled “unfamiliar territory” by Stokes due to it being a new show that hasn’t been performed much, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” feels surefooted and homey in every way. Fifty-five youth performers bring the world of 1840s St. Petersburg, Missouri, to life, creating a heartfelt, entertaining story that rolls right along in perfect harmony, just like the mighty Mississippi.

Jacob Woll embraces the spirit of Tom Sawyer and is thoroughly entertaining to watch, likable and confident in every step. He is well matched with Tim Sanders as Huckleberry Finn, the duo creating a charming and enviable friendship with delightful banter.

Perhaps most impressive is the youth actors’ deft handling of the adult roles. Karina Simpson as Aunt Polly, Mario Rappa as Reverend Joshua Sprague, Connor Stokes as Injun Joe, Jonathan Barouch as Muff Potter, and Lauren D’Ambrosio as Widow Douglas are entirely mature, self-possessed and convincing in their grown-up clothes. You’ll find yourself checking the cast photos to make sure that they are indeed kids.

Don Schiltz’s music and lyrics are a great accompaniment to the story with fun and lively numbers like “Smart Like That,” “It’s in the Bible,” and “Ain’t Life Fine,” as well as softer, more tender songs such as “To Hear You Say My Name,” “This Time Tomorrow,” and “Light.” The southern sounds are provided by a live, wonderful eight-piece orchestra conducted by Music Director Nancy Godfrey, complete with fiddles, banjo, guitars, bass, drum, and keyboard.

Kim Tolman has crafted grounded and impressive sets, from a simple fishing dock to the beautifully creepy cemetery scene, and the dangerous grandeur of McDougal’s Cave.

This show is fun and engaging throughout, likable in every way and sure to please young and old alike. So get on over to Tom Sawyer’s neck of the woods and as the song says, “Stop your grievin’, start believin’, ain’t life fine!”

Performances are held Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. ASL interpretation will be provided January 13, and a “Talk Back” audience Q&A with the cast on January 20. Tickets are $26 for adults, $24 for seniors, and $20 for students and children, with discount nights on January 13 and 20 with tickets $20 for adults and seniors, and $10 for students and children. Call (510) 659-1319 or purchase online at

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
January 6 – 22
Friday and Saturday: 7:30 p.m.
Sunday: 2:30 p.m.

Jackson Theatre, Smith Center
Ohlone College
43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 659-1319

Tickets: $20 – $26