Don’t let Tom fool you — a Saturday afternoon of fence painting is a drag.
Then again, Tom is a great salesman, and by the time he convinces his friends to take his place at the fence, audiences in the Reilly Theatre may want to join them.
“He’s so clever,” says Hayden Ponjuan, who plays the main character in Playmakers of Baton Rouge’s production of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” “He uses his smarts to get his friends to do what he wants, and he has a big imagination.”
The musical opens the company’s 2015-16 season on Friday, Aug. 21, in the Reilly Theatre. And though the story may be familiar to many, it never gets old.
“‘Tom Sawyer’ throws us back into adolescence and what we learned at that age,” says Colt Neidhardt, who was named Playmakers’ new artistic director in June. “It’s filled with adventure and the discovery of young love. And you can expect a lot of whitewashing fun.”
Neidhardt, of course, is referring to Tom’s classic con game when sentenced by his aunt to a Saturday of painting her picket fence. Tom convinces his friends that he’s having a great time, and they not only pick up paint brushes but pay him for the opportunity to take his place.
Any version of “Tom Sawyer” would be incomplete without the scene, and Ken Ludwig and Don Schlitz highlighted it with the song “Smart Like That” when creating “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
The musical, based on Mark Twain’s 1876 novel, premiered in Broadway’s Minskoff Theater in 2001.
The story is set in 1840 St. Petersburg, Missouri, a bustling town on the banks of the Mississippi River, where Tom will attempt to match wits with his stern Aunt Polly, falls in love with Becky Thatcher and goes hunting for gold with Becky and his best friend, Huckleberry Finn.
In Playmakers’ version, Huck is being played by Revathi Menon. That’s right, Huck is being played by a girl.
“I auditioned with the part of Huckleberry Finn in mind,” says Menon, a 15-year-old sophomore at Baton Rouge High Magnet School. “I really love his character. He’s good natured, carefree and he knows the important stuff. He’s a fun guy.”
Still, there was a thing or two Menon had to learn about playing a boy.
“Their mannerisms are different, the way they stand and walk,” she says. “I never paid attention to that before, but I’m having to learn it now. I observe Hayden a lot during rehearsal and copy some of the things he does.”
Her 14-year-old costar, Ponjuan, is a sophomore at Lee High School, and playing his love interest, Becky, is 12-year-old Ashley Stevens, an eighth-grader at Sacred Heart of Jesus School.
“Tom is creative,” Ponjuan says. “He’s also very mischievous, and I see a lot of myself in him because of that. If I knew him in real life, he’d be my best friend.”
As for Becky, she can be the typical girly girl at times.
“She has a lot of sides to her character,” Stevens says. “She can be feisty, but she can also be a scaredy-cat. She feels a lot of different things, and people can relate to it.”
Tom, Huck and Becky will perform their numbers to recorded music, and as an added bonus Ponjuan’s dad, Jorge Ponjuan, will play Tom’s nemesis, Injun Joe.
And the adventure begins at the Reilly, the only place in town where Saturday chores are fun.