The WordPlayers Return to The Historic Bijou Theatre

It wasn’t till 1908 that the place was turned into a Theatre. The Knoxville Sentinel, in 1908, called it “one of the best constructed and most conveniently arranged houses in the entire south”. It opened March 8 of that year to a sellout crowd.  “Little Johnny Jones,” starring George M. Cohan, and featuring tunes such as “Give my Regards to Broadway” and “Yankee Doodle Boy” was the first to grace the Bijou stage.  In those days, it was the only theatre to admit both blacks and whites.  Which is just one of the reasons that, though we have performed there a few times before, The WordPlayers’ production of Big River this July will be a very special event.

Big River, which is based on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and features brilliant music from Roger Miller, is an appropriate masterpiece not only for the The WordPlayers to take on, but to perform on the Bijou stage.  Jim sums it up in his line from the song “Worlds Apart.”

I see the same stars through brown eyes that you see through blue.

With the questions that racial issues have brought out here in the South, the stories of Knoxville, and the Bijou Theatre itself, have an interesting effect on such conversations.  Some of these are conversations that we need to try again, and some need to be put to rest in order to move forward.  The WordPlayers cares deeply about the need for racial reconciliation. The best thing we can do for the cause of unity is to leave alone certain conversations and simply produce excellent theatre like Big River, with a multi-racial cast, in an excellent venue like the historic Bijou Theatre.

Of course, by 1928, because of the stipulations of new owners who also were building the Tennessee Theatre, the Bijou literally became a used car lot. The fruit stand that was opened in the Bijou’s entrance is said to have sold the first bananas in Knoxville. American Presidents have made speeches from the balcony; artists like The Marx Brothers, Anna Pavlova, and Dave Matthews have performed in recent decades. You can find the complete history of the Bijou on its website.

But this summer, it won’t be the Marx Brothers to look for, it will be Huck Finn and Jim telling us a story more fun and beautiful than most of us have experienced. It won’t be another attempt to tell about black and white. No, it will be about red, the color we all bleed. It will be told in music, the language we all speak. It will be muddy waters teaching us how to faithfully carry those in need. It will be a river that never asks questions or judges its patrons. And it will be a wonderful spectacle, with a dream cast and a director who has more than earned her reputation for excellence in our great city. July 15-17, join us in an experience that Knoxville has been waiting for. Tickets are on sale!

Talk to me.

Ethan Norman
Artistic Associate, The WordPlayers