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February 2, 2003

Goodspeed education director up for Grammy

From: Middletown Press, CT - 02 Feb 2003

By MATTHEW HIGBEE, Staff Writer February 02, 2003
EAST HADDAM -- Bruce Springsteen. Eminem. Norah Jones. Busta Rhymes. Will Rhys?
Rhys, the education director for Goodspeed Musicals, is also credited on a CD nominated for a 2002 Grammy Award for "Best Spoken Word Album for Children."

The work is an adaptation of Ogden Nash’s long poem, "The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t," produced by the National Theater of the Deaf. So what if it’s in one of those don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it categories that flash on the screen just before commercial break -- it’s still a Grammy nomination.

"I’m just tickled that it actually happened. It gives recognition to the National Theater of the Deaf and I hope prompts sales," said Rhys.

The CD, which features John Lithgow as narrator, began as a stage project in 1997 for the NTD, where Rhys was artistic director.

Rhys was looking for a Christmas poem when he came across the Nash piece. After receiving permission to adapt the work to the stage, his challenge was to rework it for two languages: American sign language and spoken English.

"I chose portions of the poem that were most visual," he said.

Wanting to turn the work into a musical, Rhys teamed up with composer Ira Mitchell. Mitchell also plays drums on the CD.

The success of the musical performance inspired Rhys and NTD Media Director Peirre Patrick to package the performance into a CD that could be marketed as a fund raiser.

Patrickrecruited artists such as Billy Crawford, Leif Garrett, and Suzy Roache, and Rhys called on Lithgow, an old friend he met when they performed together in the early 1970s production of "The Changing Room" at the Long Wharf Theater and on Broadway.

"We kept in touch. Through the years John was a great supporter of the National Theater of the Deaf. We needed someone of his caliber. He gave it a great deal of credibility," said Rhys.

In addition to Lithgow and other well known artists, the CD also features a performance by a deaf rap group from Washington DC.

The CD will compete for the Grammy against "Halloween"-- Jerry Seinfeld; "The Jamie Lee Curtis Audio Collection," -- Jamie Lee Curtis; "Monsters Inc.;" and "There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly" -- Tom Chapin. For Rhys, winning would be nice, but the nomination is a treat in itself.

"Since nobody’s getting rich off it I’m enjoying that I’m connected to it. I’m also pleased for recognition of Ira. He’s such a wonderful musician," he said.

To contact Matthew Higbee, call (860) 347-3331 ext. 223, or email

©The Middletown Press 2003