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`Big River’ director weathers choppiness in life’s currents

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Of all the "tired" and true show biz cliches, the most tired - and truest - is "The show must go on."

If you doubt it, ask Dee Pace.Pace is the director of "Big River," the musical that opens tonight at the Heritage Theatre in Perry. And to get the show mounted he's had to weather chest pains, an angioplasty, an allergic reaction that has given him a fever, chills and the hives - not to mention the usual daily disasters that directors have to overcome.

But tonight, "the show goes on."

"My wife Nedra took over while I was out," he says. "The heart procedure set me back a week. But now I'm back in the saddle and - ready or not - here we come. I think it will be a very good opening."

The advice from his doctors?

"They told me to limit myself to one life and stop trying to live three," says Pace.

Which life he eventually chooses will be interesting. But for the next couple of weeks he and Nedra will be living "Big River," the smash Broadway musical with music by Roger Miller and book by William Hauppman. The production retells Mark Twain's tale of Huck Finn and Jim as they work their way down the Mississippi River and in and out of hassles.

The song "River in the Rain" is the show-stopper, though all the other numbers are catchy and memorable.

The show will run from April 10-25 at 8 p.m. on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. There's a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, April 18.

The theater is located in the old Perry ward house on U.S. 89 just south of Brigham City. For reservations and ticket information call 1-435-723-8392.

"We've cast some good voices," says Pace. "Right now we're doing the `gathering,' trying to pull together all the little things that need to be ready for opening night."

Needless to say, this will not be the first opening night for Dee Pace. He's seen more than a few.

But then Pace is one of those little gifts that small towns receive from time to time - a person with great talent who's chosen lifestyle over profession. A native of Utah County, he became a solid actor and performer as a student at Southern Utah University (then SUSC). There, a Hollywood insider pulled him aside while he was performing for the tourists in Kanab and asked if he could set up a meeting between Pace and Clint Eastwood, who was filming a Western in the area.

"You have the look," he was told. "You have a future."

But Dee Pace already knew his future.

"I wanted to teach," he says today.

In one of those moves seldom seen in the business, Pace chose stability over stardom and turned down the Eastwood interview. And - as Robert Frost was wont to say - that has made all the difference.

For 17 years he taught theater in the Box Elder school system. Today he's an administrator at Bear River High School. Chances are he could have made it in Hollywood, or even on Broadway. The rave reviews he received for his role as Fagin in an Ogden production of "Oliver Twist" bear that out. But he refuses to look back. He is always looking ahead.

And tonight, he is looking forward to "Big River," one of the more ambitious musicals mounted at Heritage in some time.

Tonight, despite the chills, fever and heart problems, the show will go on.

Just as Dee Pace plans to go on and on - and on.