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October 8, 2002

Ovation-nominated 'Big River' Returns to L.A. With Bonds, Jr., Frelich

From: Playbill
Oct 8, 2002

Christine Ehren, Playbill On-Line

The Deaf West Theatre's revival of Big River, which bested Broadway's Flower Drum Song and Into the Woods at the recent Ovation Award nominations, returns to Los Angeles for a two month run at the Mark Taper Forum. The musical, which stars Rufus Bonds, Jr., Gwen Stewart and Tony Award winner Phyllis Frelich, plays Nov. 5-Dec. 29 with an opening Nov. 14.

A veteran of Rent and Parade, Bonds, Jr. comes to Big River after starring as Mufasa in L.A.'s company of The Lion King. Bonds, Jr. plays the slave Jim. Stewart, who is Alice, was featured in the original Broadway company of Rent. A co-founder of the National Theatre of the Deaf, Frelich won her Tony for Children of a Lesser God, which was written for her by Mark Medoff.

Deaf West Theatre has a unique approach to musicals and plays, incorporating both hearing and hearing-impaired actors in the cast. Songs and dialogue are often sung and signed with actors doubling as characters, one half-speaking, and one half-signing. For example, in Big River, Huckleberry Finn's Pap is played by hearing-impaired actor Troy Kotsur and sung by Lyle Kanouse, who also plays the con man King.

Also in the cast are Chuck Baird, Michelle A. Banks, Gibby Brand, Michael Davis, Tyrone Giordano, Rod Keller, Carol Kline, Jarrett LeMaster, William Martinez, Ryan Schlecht, Melissa van der Schyff, Alexandria Wailes and Scott Waara as Mark Twain and the voice of Huckleberry Finn.

Jeff Calhoun directs. A director-choreographer whose work includes the Tony-nominated dance in 1994's Grease! The Will Rogers Follies and Bells Are Ringing, Calhoun told Playbill On-Line (June 5) that he was definitely interested in bringing the Deaf West revival to Broadway with Jujamcyn's Rocco Landesman as a possible producing partner. There is no official confirmation of a transfer, but the Mark Taper Forum did recently bring Flower Drum Song to New York after an extended run in the fall and winter of 2001-02.

Big River, which debuted at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre in 1985, is a musical re-telling of Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," concentrated mostly on Finn's travels with the runaway slave Jim as they float down the Mississippi on a raft. Songs in the Roger Miller score include "Waiting for the Light to Shine," "Guv'ment," "Muddy Water," "River in the Rain," "The Royal Nonesuch," "Worlds Apart," "Leaving's Not the Only Way to Go," "You Ought to Be Here With Me" and "Free At Last."

For ticket information, call (213) 628-2772. The Mark Taper Forum is located at 135 N. Grand Ave. and on the web at

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