Big River


Full Length Musical, Comedy  /  6f, 6m

Music by Roger Miller / Lyrics by Roger Miller / Book by William Hauptman / Adapted from the novel by Mark Twain

Be swept away by the river with Huckleberry Finn as he helps his friend Jim escape to freedom.

Photo: Joan Marcus

Big River
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  • Cast Size
    Cast Size
    6f, 6m
  • Duration
    120 minutes (2 hours)
  • SubGenre
    Adaptations (Literature)
  • Audience
    Target Audience
    • Appropriate for all audiences
  • Winner! 1985 Tony Awards, Best Musical
    Winner! 1985 Tony Awards, Best Book of a Musical
    Winner! 1985 Tony Awards, Best Original Score
    Winner! 1985 Drama Desk Awards, Outstanding Orchestration
    Winner! 1985 Drama Desk Awards, Outstanding Lyrics
    Winner! 1985 Drama Desk Awards, Outstanding Music
    Nominee! 2004 Tony Awards, Best Revival of a Musical
    Nominee! 2004 Drama Desk Awards, Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Twain's timeless classic sweeps us down the mighty Mississippi as the irrepressible Huck Finn helps his friend Jim, a slave, escape to freedom at the mouth of the Ohio River. Their adventures along the way are hilarious, suspenseful and heartwarming, bringing to life your favorite characters from the novel-the Widow Douglas and her stern sister, Miss Watson; the uproarious King and Duke, who may or may not be as harmless as they seem; Huck's partner in crime, Tom Sawyer, and their rowdy gang of pals; Huck's drunken father, the sinister Pap Finn; the lovely Mary Jane Wilkes and her trusting family. Propelled by an award winning score from Roger Miller, the king of country music, this jaunty journey provides a brilliantly theatrical celebration of pure Americana.
Big River Background
From The Official Roger Miller Website (

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.

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."

For Roger, Big River was the crowning achievement of a fantastic career that to him only then seemed complete. He is the only Country artist to win a Tony Award. With Big River a proven success, Roger was able to relax at his Santa Fe home and focus on the family life he had made with Mary and their two young children, Taylor and Adam. "I have a brother who’s five and sister who's seven," says Dean Miller, "and they were his all-consuming passion." Roger had found a happiness with Mary and the children he had longed for all his life.


Performing Groups
  • Elementary School / Primary
  • Jr High/Primary
  • High School/Secondary
  • College Theatre / Student
  • Community Theatre
  • Professional Theatre
  • Church / Religious Groups
  • Smoking

Licence details

  • Licensing fees and rental materials quoted upon application.



  • Time Period: 19th Century
  • Duration: 120 minutes (2 hours)
  • Features / Contains: Period Costumes


Big River takes place along the Mississippi River Valley sometime in the late 1840's.

St. Petersburg, Missouri
The Illinois Shore
Jackson's Island
The Mississippi River, south of St. Louis
The Mississippi River, near Cairo, Illinois
The Riverbank in Kentucky
Bricktown, Arkansas
Hillsboro, Arkansas
A Farm near Hillsboro


6f, 6m
Cast Attributes
  • Multicultural casting
  • Roles for Children
  • Strong Role for Leading Man (Star Vehicle)
2 Men

6 Women
4 Men

Singing ensemble with many small roles and much doubling possible, consisting of Slaves, Townspeople, Tarts, Mourners, Movers, Patients, Hired Hands

There are 3 Onstage Musicians: a Fiddle Player, Guitar Player, and a Harmonica Player.
The Broadway production used a cast of 7 Women and 14 Men: 9 of whom doubled in various roles.

Mark Twain
Tom Sawyer
Pap Finn
Huckleberry Finn
Ben Rogers
Judge Thatcher
Widow Douglas
Jo Harper
Strange Woman
Miss Watson
The King
The Duke
A Posse
A Young Fool
A Servant
Sheriff Bell
Mary Jane Wilkes
Counselor Robinson
Harvey Wilkes
Susan Wilkes
Joanna Wilkes
Alice's Daughter
Sally Phelps
Silas Phelps
Fiddle Player
Guitar Player
Harmonica Player
Slaves, Townspeople, Tarts, Mourners, Movers, Patients, Hired Hands, et al.
Casting Notes

 Jim, Alice, Alice's Daughter, and appropriate ensemble roles should be cast with African American actors.


  • Musical Style: Classic Broadway, Country/Western, Contemporary Broadway
  • Dance Requirements: Moderate
  • Vocal Demands: Moderate
  • Orchestra Size: Medium
  • Chorus Size: Large
1. "Overture" - 
1.25. "Do You Wanna Go To Heaven?" - The Company
2. "The Boys" - Tom and the Boys
3. "Waitin' For The Light To Shine" - Huck
4. "Guv'ment" - Pap
5. "Hand For The Hog" - Tom and the Boys
6. "I, Huckleberry, Me" - Huck
7. "Muddy Water" - Jim and Huck
8. "The Crossing" - Slaves
9. "River In The Rain" - Huck and Jim
10. "When The Sun Goes Down In The South" - Duke, King and Huck
11. "The Royal None Such" - Duke and the Company
12. "World's Apart" - Jim and Huck
13. "Arkansas" - A Young Fool
14. "How Blest We Are" - Alice's Daughter and the Company
15. "You Ought To Be Here With Me" - Mary Jane, Susan and Joanna
16. "How Blest We Are (Reprise)" - The Company
17. "Leavin's Not The Only Way To Go" - Huck, Mary Jane and Jim
18. "Waitin' For The Light To Shine (Reprise)" - Huck
19. "Free At Last" - Jim and Slaves
20. "River In The Rain (Reprise)" - Huck and Jim
21. "Muddy Water (Reprise)" - The Company
Full Orchestration

Woodwind (Flute, Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Optional English Horn, Bass Clarinet)
Trumpet (Piano, Harmonium, DX7, Organ)
Trombone (Doubles Flugelhorn)
Drums (Doubles Baritone Horn)
Piano (Piano, Harmonium, DX7, Organ)
Guitar I (Banjo, Mandolin, 6 and 12 String Acoustic)
Guitar II (Banjo and 6 String Acoustic)
Harmonica (Doubles Jew's Harp, Tamb, Bass Harmonica)

Violin, Harmonica and Guitar II are onstage musicians.
In the original Broadway production of BIG RIVER, the conductor also played keyboards, and the Woodwind book was played by one player as the English Horn and Bass Clarinet were minimally used.


Rehearsal Resources

Music Material Rental Packages Glyphs / UI / Tooltip

Full Package:
35 Libretto Vocal
1 Piano Conductor

1 Woodwind
1 Trumpet
1 Trombone
1 Drums
1 Bass
1 Guitar I
1 Guitar II
1 Violin
1 Harmonica
1 Logo Pack

Piano Only:

35 Libretto Vocal
1 Piano Conductor
1 Logo Pack

Additional Resources And Services Available



"A classic American musical with the most fetching score of the decade."
Time Magazine

"The story is a fun one including lots of social and historical relevance, and a moral conscience...the score is one that audiences will likely go home humming. "
— Matthew Murray,

"A rousing, high spirited show that sets your hands to clapping, your feet to stomping and your heart to rise within you!"

Music Samples


  • Big River 1985 Tony Awards

More videos +



Roger Miller

ROGER MILLER was born in Texas and grew up in Oklahoma. He made his first significant mark on the entertainment world as a songwriter of such hits as "Invitation To The Blues," "Billy Bayou," "In The Summertime (You Don't Want My Love)," "When Two Worlds Collide," "Home, ...

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William Hauptman

William Hauptman was born in Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and the Yale School of Drama. His plays include Heat, Shearwater, Gillette, and Domino Courts, which won a 1977 Village Voice Obie Award. Big River, written in collaboration with composer Roger Miller, ...

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Mark Twain

Mark Twain, pseudonym of SAMUEL LANGHORNE CLEMENS (1835-1910), was born November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri. In 1862 he became a reporter on the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, and in 1863 began signing his articles with the pseudonym "Mark Twain," a Mississippi River phrase m ...

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