The musical — based on Mark Twain’s tale of race and class in America, set to music and lyrics by Roger Miller — tells the story of Huck and runaway slave Jim and the people they encounter on a raft on the Mississippi. Timed to coincide with February’s Black History Month — “Big River” is directed by John Fanelli, of Thornwood’s Lighthouse Youth Arts Center, where many of the cast’s young actors study.
Playing Huck is Anthony Malchar, of Yonkers, who comes to WBT from Westchester’s community-theater network, a veteran of productions from Croton Falls to Yorktown to Yonkers. When he was at Westchester Community College, he says, “I was in every show they did.”
The lanky Malchar has built an acting resumé “playing the young juvenile kids” — Jonnycq in “Zombie Prom,” Bobby in “Urinetown” with Little Radical Theatrics, and Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” at Yorktown Stage and ACT in Yonkers.
It’s a long run: 28 shows performed Wednesdays through Sundays for a month. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
“In community theater, it’s usually one or two weekends, maybe three,” Malchar says. “I’m looking forward to that, as a way to prepare myself for something Off-Broadway, or a tour.”
The actor playing Jim has taken a more circuitous route to the stage, one with more twists and turns than the mighty Mississippi.
He was born Gary Fritzroy Francis Jr., but that’s not who he is now.
Now, he’s FaTye — pronounced “fuh-TIE” — whose early years were spent in the New York City foster-care system, moving from group home to group home. He was 12 when he entered the foster system and 14 when he left.
Along the way, Gary gave way to FaTye, a one-name-only made-up monicker that captured the kind of kid he was, a kid who sang “comfort songs” aloud to guide him, songs like Alan Menken’s “I Can Go the Distance,” from the movie “Hercules,” which has the lyric:
“I’ll be there someday. I can go the distance.
I will find my way, If I can be strong.
I know every mile Will be worth my while
When I go the distance I’ll be right where I belong.”
He knew foster care wasn’t where he belonged.
“I chose to leave, because I was the smallest kid there,” he says. “Bullying is something that was going on non-stop. I was the youngest one. Being the runt, it tends to happen a lot,” he says. “I chose to leave on my own, which, in the state of New York, is illegal. A 14-year-old can’t legally live on his own in New York.” The man who now plays a runaway was once a runaway. He moved into the abandoned basement of the Bronx building where his mother had once lived. (She had since moved