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July 15, 2003

Deaf West's "Big River" Opening on Broadway

From: D.E.A.F. Media Inc. - Jul 15, 2003

June 30, 2003
Contact: Adrian Bryan-Brown, Matt Polk, Jessica Johnson


Roundabout Theatre Company and Deaf West Theatre
in association with the Mark Taper Forum,
have begun preview performances for the New York premiere production of the
American Sign Language adaptation of
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Music and Lyrics by Roger Miller
Book by William Hauptman
Adapted from the novel by Mark Twain

Directed and Choreographed by Jeff Calhoun

Previews began July 1st, 2003
Official Opening July 24th, 2003
At the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway

Roundabout Theatre Company (Todd Haimes, Artistic Director) and Deaf West Theatre (Artistic Director, Ed Waterstreet), in association with the Mark Taper Forum (Artistic Director, Gordon Davidson), have begun preview performances for the New York premiere production of the multi-award winning American Sign Language adaptation of BIG RIVER, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Directed and Choreographed by Jeff Calhoun, adapted from the novel by Mark Twain, with music and lyrics by Roger Miller and a book by William Hauptman, BIG RIVER, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is currently in previews and will open officially on July 24th, 2003 at the American Airlines Theatre (227 West 42nd Street). This is a limited engagement through September 14, 2003.

BIG RIVER, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn includes deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing actors performing each role in a synchronized ballet of speaking and signing. Spoken English and American Sign Language (ASL) are interwoven with music, dance and storytelling techniques from both hearing and deaf cultures into a "third language" creating a unique theatrical event.

BIG RIVER, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the greatest creations in American fiction. This tale of adventure and self-discovery begins on a raft on the Mississippi River in the 1840s, where Huck, escaping from his drunken father, meets up with Jim, a runaway slave. The story of their journey downstream is an American classic that captures the rhythms, sounds and spirit of life on the big river.

The musical numbers include “Do You Want to Go To Heaven,” “Waiting for the Light To Shine,” “Hand for the Hog,” “Muddy Water,” “When the Sun Goes Down in the South” and “Worlds Apart.”

The creative and design team are: Steven Landau, musical director; Ray Klausen, sets; David R. Zyla, costumes; Michael Gilliam, lights and Peter Fitzgerald, sound.

The cast includes Michael Arden (Tom Sawyer), Scott Barnhardt (Ben Rogers/Puppeteer/Andy/Ronald Robinson/Voice of Young Fool/Voice of Sheriff/Ensemble), Catherine Brunell (Standby), Walter Charles (Preacher/Doctor/Voice of Judge/Voice of Duke/Voice of First Man/Ensemble), David Aron Damane (Standby), Christina Ellison Dunams (Alice’s Daughter/Slave/Ensemble), Gina Ferrall (Widow Douglas/Voice of Sally/Ensemble), Phyllis Frelich (Miss Watson/Sally/Ensemble), Tyrone Giordano (Huckleberry Finn), Daniel Jenkins (Mark Twain/Voice of Huck), Lyle Kanouse (Pap/King/Voice of Silas/Ensemble), Rod Keller (Jo Harper/Lafe/Donald Robinson/Ensemble), Troy Kotsur (Pap/Duke/Ensemble), Kevin Massey (Standby), George McDaniel (Standby), Michael McElroy (Jim), Drew McVety (Voice of Dick Simon/Voice of Hank/Voice of Harvey Wilkes/Second Man/Ensemble), Guthrie Nutter (Standby), Ryan Schlecht (Dick Simon/Hank/Young Fool/Sheriff Bell/Ensemble), Iosif Schneideman (Judge Thatcher/Harvey Wilkes/Silas/First Man/Ensemble), Gwen Stewart (Alice/Voice of Alice’s Daughter/Slave/Ensemble), Melissa Van Der Schyff (Mary Jane Wilkes/Voice of Miss Watson/Voice of Joanna/Ensemble), Alexandria Wailes (Joanna).

Big River was originally produced at Deaf West Theatre's 99-seat space in North Hollywood California in the Fall of 2001. BIG RIVER, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was then presented at the Mark Taper forum for it's first full Equity production in the Fall of 2002. The Deaf West Theatre's production of Big River won six Theatre LA Ovation Awards, five Los Angeles Drama Critics' Circle Awards, and five Back Stage West Garland Awards - including “Best Musical” from each.

BIG RIVER, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Ticket Information:
Tickets for BIG RIVER, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are available by calling Roundabout Ticket Services at (212) 719-1300 or at the box office at the American Airlines Theatre at 227 West 42nd Street. BIG RIVER, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will play Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00PM with a Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinee at 2:00PM. Please note the following: Early-to-Bed Series: 7:00PM curtains on Tuesday, August 12th - Friday, August 15th and Tuesday, August 19th - Saturday, August 23rd. There will not be a performance on: Wednesday, September 3rd at 2:00PM. Added performance: Sunday, September 7th, at 7:30PM. Ticket prices range from $26.25-$91.25.

ROGER MILLER (Music/Lyrics). The Tony Award winning score of Big River was written by Miller who was one of the great country singer-songwriters. Born in 1936, Miller wrote countless country gems like “Invitation to the Blues”, “King of the Road”, and “Dang Me”. He received eight Grammy Awards including the 1964 and 1965 Best Male Country and Western Album and the 1964 and 1965 Best Male Country and Western Performance. In 1985, Big River won seven Tony Awards including Best Score and Best Musical. He died in 1992 and was elected posthumously to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1995.

WILLIAM HAUPTMAN (Book). Born in Texas and attended the University of Texas and the Yale School of Drama. His plays include Heat, Domino Courts (Obie Award) and Gillette (Drama-Logue Award). For Big River, he won a 1985 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. His fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories anthology, and includes The Storm Season, a novel. He has also written screenplays for film and television and was a guest professor at the Texas Center for Writers, a program of the University of Texas at Austin. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Marjorie and their son Max.

JEFF CALHOUN (Director/Choreographer). Received the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award for his direction and choreography of the Deaf West production of Big River. He also received the Ovation Award for Best Direction of a Musical for Oliver!, also at Deaf West. Jeff directed and choreographed the Broadway revival of Grease! (Tony Award nomination for choreography). He made his Broadway directing debut with Tommy Tune Tonight and his collaboration with Tommy Tune on The Will Rogers Follies led to the 1997 Tony Award for Best Choreography. He co-choreographed the Tony Award-winning Annie Get Your Gun (Best Musical) and directed and choreographed its national tour. Jeff received the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award for his choreography of Bouncers at the Tiffany Theatre (directed by Ron Link). For the New York 2000-2001 season, he choreographed the Broadway revival of Bells Are Ringing and choreographed Jane Dee’s robotic dance in Manhattan Theatre Club’s Comic Potential.

STEVEN LANDAU (Music Director). Received the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Award and a Back Stage West Garland Award, as well as an Ovation Award nomination, as musical director for the original Deaf West Theatre production of Big River. He was musical director for the first national tour of Titanic and conducted that show in 39 cities. Steve has been musical director for several productions at the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities, including Cabaret, Little Shop of Horrors, Titanic and Evita, and three seasons at Music Theater of Wichita. At the piano, Steve has accompanied Michael Jeter, Joanna Gleason, Dixie Carter and many others. He was also a cast member of the national touring company of City of Angels.

MICHAEL ARDEN (Tom Sawyer). Michael is honored to make his Broadway debut in Big River. Theater: Donald Marguiles’ God of Vengeance, Where's Charley?, Falsettoland (WTF), Tom Jones’ Harold and Maude, West Side Story, Songs for a New World, The Common Pursuit, As You Like It, The Winter’s Tale. Training: Interlochen, The Juilliard School. Michael is a Presidential Scholar in the Arts. Thanks to God, family, friends, teachers, 34, and everyone involved in Big River.

SCOTT BARNHARDT (Ben Rogers/Puppeteer/Andy/Ronald Robinson/Voice of Young Fool/Voice of Sheriff Bell). A Southern California native, is honored to be making his Broadway debut with Big River. Regional: Me & My Girl (Goodspeed Opera House), Footloose and Anything Goes (Theatre-by-the-Sea), Joseph… (Hangar Theater – Simeon “Cannan Days”), Sweeney Todd (Tobias). Scott is a graduate from Wagner College and the Orange County High School of the Arts. Love and thanks to his parents, Nancy and to everyone involved for helping make this dream come true.

CATHERINE BRUNELL (Understudy). Broadway: Thoroughly Modern Millie (u/s Millie), Les Miserables (Eponine). National Tour: Les Miserables. Regional: Old Globe, Barter, MUNY. Work-shopped the upcoming Broadway musical Little Women. Completed two NYC Marathons and devoted Boston Red Sox fan. For my amazing husband, Chris.

WALTER CHARLES (Preacher/Doctor/Voice of Judge/Voice of Hank/Voice of Duke/Voice of Harvey Wilkes). Broadway: La Cage Aux Folles (Albin), Christmas Carol (Scrooge), Grease, Sweeney Todd, Cats, Me & My Girl, Aspects of Love, Anna Karenina, 110 in the Shade, Call Me Madam (City Center Encores), Boys From Syracuse (Roundabout). Off-Broadway: Wit (Pulitzer Prize), The Immigrant. Film: Prancer, Weeds, Fletch Lives, A Fine Mess. Television: “Law & Order”, “Kate & Allie”, “Cagney & Lacey”, “Sweeney Todd” (PBS Great Performances), “1983 Grammy Awards”, “All My Children”.

DAVID ARON DAMANE (Understudy). New York:  Porgy & Bess, Riverdance, The Life, Christmas Carol, Dinah Was, Living in the Wind. National: Riverdance, Tommy, Where’s Charley, Macbeth, Big River, Five Guys Named Moe, Abyssinia, Dreamgirls.  Television: "Law & Order", "Guiding Light", "One Life to Live", “All My Children".

CHRISTINA ELLISON DUNAMS (Alice’s Daughter/Slave). Native of N.Y.C., stage experience began in 1994 when she moved to Washington, D.C. and joined a traveling performance group in 1995; The Roadshow. Since then she has been involved with seven productions including directing a college production of Vagina Monologues. After graduating from Gallaudet University in 2002 with a BA in Psychology Honors, she returned to NYC and has done stage readings of A Not So Quiet Nocturne at the Cherry Lane theater.

GINA FERRALL (Widow Douglas/Voice of Sally). Broadway: Jane Eyre (Mrs. Reed), The Sound of Music (Sister Berthe), Funny Thing Happened… (Domina), Les Miserables (Madame Thenardier). Tour: First, second and third national companies of Les Miserables, Encores! The Pajama Game. Off-Broadway: The Castle at M.E.T. Regional Theatre: Man of La Mancha (Pittsburgh Public Theatre), Into the Woods (TUTS), The Music Man (Sacramento). Company member of The American Conservatory Theatre from 1986-1990. For my wonderful husband, the drummer, Kory Grossman.

PHYLLIS FRELICH (Miss Watson/Sally). A Tony Award winner for Children of a Lesser God and an Emmy nominee for the Hallmark Hall of Fame film "Love is Never Silent", her stage credits include Road to a Revolution, The Hands of Its Enemy, The Debutante Ball, The Gin Game, Gila, Equus, The House of Bernarda Alba, A Christmas Carousel and Lolly Foster's Daredevil Airshow.  Phyllis has guest starred on "ER", "L.A. Law", 'Hunter", "Spenser: For Hire", "Gimme a Break", "Santa Barbara" and others.

TYRONE GIORDANO (Huckleberry Finn). Making his Broadway debut with considerable joy. He has been along for the ride from the show’s beginnings at Deaf West Theatre to the Mark Taper Forum. He has also performed in Arena Stage’s production of The Miracle Worker (chorus). Much, much love and thanks to his family and friends who have believed in him every step of the way.

DANIEL JENKINS (Mark Twain/Voice of Huck). Broadway: Wrong Mountain, big, Angels in America and “Huck” in Big River (1985 Tony nomination). Off-Broadway: Pajama Game, Spinning into Butter, Dream True, Maiden’s Prayer, Triumph of Love, Johnny Pye, Feast Here Tonight (composer). Regional: ACT, La Jolla, ATL (two years), O’Neill, Sundance. Film: Cradle Will Rock, In Country, Five Corners, Tanner ’88, Caine Mutiny and O.C. and Stiggs. Television: “Law & Order”, “Cracker”, “Going to Extremes”. For Kathy, Jack and Jesse.

(Pap/King/Voice of Silas). Broadway: City of Angels, Chaplin, The Miser. National Tours: Guys and Dolls, City of Angels, Unsinkable Molly Brown, Jesus Christ Superstar, 1776, Oklahoma, Chess, South Pacific, Fiddler. Television: “Homicide”, “Two Guys and a Girl”, “Dallas”. Guest starred in over 80 episodics. Film: 39 films include recent releases Auto Focus as Sgt. Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes”, Laurel Canyon, Whipped, Temptation, Dr. Benny, Love Object, Kate’s Addiction, and Out of Habit.

ROD KELLER (Jo Harper/Lafe/Donald Robinson/Dance Captain). Rod is thrilled to make his Broadway debut with Big River! Rod received the 2002 L.A. Ovation Award for his performance of "Linus" in You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. Other Los Angeles credits: Hair (Woof), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Merrily We Roll Along (all with Reprise!), Big River, Empire (Ethan), The Outsiders (Ponyboy). Europe: West Side Story (Baby John), Grease (Doody). Much love to family and friends!

TROY KOTSUR (Pap/Duke). Television: “Sue Thomas: FBEye” (PAX), “DOC”, “Strong Medicine”. Troy has performed in 16 Deaf West productions. Other Credits: True West, A Streetcar Named Desire (won 2000 LA Weekly “Best Actor”, nominated-LADCC “Best Actor”), Oliver! (LA Ovation nom.-“Best Actor”), Orphans, Sleuth, Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men (1994 LA Weekly “Best Actor”), Treasure Island and Ophelia (The National Theater of the Deaf). Thanks to Deanne Bray and Sid Craig. Dedicated to Len and JoDee.

(Understudy). Kevin is making his Broadway debut with Big River. Splitting his time between musical theater and opera, his recent credits include the European Tour of Grease (Doody) and Opera Memphis’ Pagliacci (Beppe). He graduated as a Morehead Scholar from UNC Chapel Hill.

GEORGE McDANIEL (Understudy). Best Actor L.A.Ovation nominee- Oliver; Best Actor- Man of La Mancha; Annie Get Your Gun (Buffalo Bill), Showboat, Ragtime, My Fair Lady, Putting it Together, Copenhagen, A Little Night Music. Television: “Law & Order, SVU”, “ER”, “The West Wing”.

(Jim). Broadway: Rent, Wild Party, Who’s Tommy, Miss Saigon, Pattie LuPone…Broadway, High Rollers…, Hair. National: SARAFINA. Off-Broadway: BLUE (Roundabout), Violet (Playwrights Horizons), Thunder Knocking…Door (Minetta Lane), Richard III (NYSF). Regional: Fences (Riverside), Angels In America: I & II (Alley). Television: “All My Children”, “Spin City”, “Michael Jackson Concert”, “2002 Grammys”. Founder/Director: Broadway Inspirational Voices (BIV): multi-racial gospel choir. Thanks: Sean, Mom, Family, HWA for love and support.

(Voice of Dick Simon/Second Man). Broadway: Original casts Titanic (Yeats), The Heidi Chronicles (Mark), 1st National Tour Cabaret (Ernst). Off-Broadway: McNally's Corpus Christi (Matthew) at MTC (Drama Desk Nomination Original Music), McPherson's This Lime Tree Bower (Ray) at Primary Stages, Baits' The Substance of Fire at LCT, Atlantic, Circle Rep, Public, Acting Company. Television: Bryce on “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd”, “L.&O., S.V.U.”, soaps, commercials, independent films. Drew is married to actress Nicole Van Giesen.

(Understudy). This is Guthrie's debut in a Broadway production--which is a childhood dream come true. A fresh graduate from the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Oregon native is actively pursuing his talents as an actor, artist and in costume design.

(Dick Simon/Hank/Young Fool/Sheriff Bell). The previous production of Big River at the Mark Taper Forum was a highlight of Ryan’s acting career. He credits Jeff Calhoun and the last three productions (nine LA Ovation Awards) for a rewarding acting experience. Prior to Deaf West, Ryan toured with the Tony® Award winning National Theatre of the Deaf in two productions. Thanks to NTD, Deaf West, all staffs and actors for their faiths. Love to Cindi and my parents.

IOSIF SCHNEIDERMAN (Judge Thatcher/Harvey Wilkes/Silas/First Man). Has been performing for 41 years. He received his degree in theatre from the Moscow Shchukin Theatre Academy. Having worked with the Moscow Theatre of Expression, where he performed as Pancho Cancho in Don Quixote, he moved to the USA and joined the National Theatre of the Deaf and later the Cleveland Signstage Theatre. Last year, he directed the opening ceremony for Deaf Way II, the international festival in Washington D.C., attended by over 10,000 people.

GWEN STEWART (Alice/Voice of Alice’s Daughter/Slave). Is so happy to be back in New York as part of this amazing production of Big River. Broadway/Regional: Rent (Original Broadway Cast), Starmites, Truly Blessed, Suds, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Dreamgirls, The Wiz, Abyssinia, Avenue X, Sweet ‘n Hot in Harlem. Film: Down to Earth. Television: “24”, “Charmed”, “Moesha”, “Strong Medicine”, “Showtime at the Apollo”. I thank my mom, family and friends for their support and God for my gift of song.

MELISSA VAN DER SCHYFF (Mary Jane Wilkes/Voice of Miss Watson/Voice of Joanna Wilkes). Melissa is thrilled to be making her Broadway debut with RTC and Deaf West Theatre. Los Angeles: Big River (DWT, Mark Taper Forum), Ballad (Drama Logue Award, Ovation Nomination). Television: “Chicago Hope”, Jason Alexander’s “The Whitey Show”. Film: Wyatt Earp, Hollywood Salome (Sundance), The Great Commission (Showtime). Recordings: voted “Female Pop Artist of the Year” on for her original CD “Urban Peasant” ( or

ALEXANDRIA WAILES (Joanna Wilkes). Has danced upon stages nationwide and in India, Romania, Japan and West Africa. She has gained roles in Arena Stages’s The Miracle Worker and on television’s “West Wing”. She choreographed the worldwide campaign- ASL rendition of The Vagina Monologues. For Deaf Way II, she co-directed a debut play BADIA: A Glimpse Towards Home and choreographed/performed with Pentimento. This is her second run of Big River.

DEAF WEST THEATRE. Founded in 1991 by Artistic Director/CEO Ed Waterstreet, Deaf West Theatre (DWT) has established itself as the first professional resident American Sign Language (ASL) theatre in the western United States. Located in the burgeoning North Hollywood Arts & Theatre district, DWT maintains a 99-seat resident theatre, complete with a state-of-the-art audio system so that sound can be "felt" as well as heard. All DWT productions are uniquely adapted and performed in ASL and spoken English, simultaneously. Cast members include deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing actors.
DWT has initiated an annual professional Summer Conservatory program for deaf and hard-of-hearing actors from across the country, designed to help them achieve professional careers as actors, directors, writers, designers and technicians. DWT also supports national touring efforts, co-productions and resident productions. Dedicated to directly improving and enriching the cultural lives of the 1.2 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Los Angeles area residents, DWT's acclaimed productions have won more than 60 theatre awards for artistic merit. During its 2001/2002 season, DWT's resident production of Big River won six Theatre LA Ovation Awards, five Los Angeles Drama Critics' Circle Awards, and five Back Stage West Garland Awards - including “Best Musical” from each. Major funding of Deaf West Theatre is provided by the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and the National Endowment for the Arts. WWW.DEAFWEST.ORG

MARK TAPER FORUM is celebrating its 36th season at the Los Angeles Music Center under Artistic Director Gordon Davidson. The Taper has received virtually every theatrical award including the 1977 Tony for theatrical excellence. Of particular distinction is that two Taper plays, The Kentucky Cycle and Angels in America (Part One), received in consecutive years the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, the first time for plays produced outside of New York. And, in 1994, three of the four plays nominated for Best Play were Taper plays (with The Kentucky Cycle and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 joining Part Two of Angels). Other Taper plays include “QED,” Children of a Lesser God, The Shadow Box, Jelly's Last Jam, In the Belly of the Beast, Zoot Suit and The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.

ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY (Todd Haimes, Artistic Director) was founded in 1965 and has grown from a small 150-seat theatre in a converted supermarket basement to become one of America=s most significant producers of theatre. This not-for-profit company, with over 40,000 season subscribers, is committed to producing definitive productions of classic plays and musicals, ensuring that audiences and artists alike have access to high quality, professional stagings of important works of world literature. Production highlights include Joe Egg (Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for Outstanding Revival), Anna Christie (Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for Best Revival), She Loves Me (Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and Olivier awards for Best Revival of a Musical) and Cabaret (Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for Best Revival of a Musical). With over 1,700 performances, Cabaret has become one of the longest running musical revivals in Broadway history. Three productions from Roundabout=s 1997-98 season, A View from the Bridge (Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for Best Revival of a Play), 1776 and Side Man (Tony Award for Best Play), were transferred to commercial Broadway engagements. On October 8, 2000, channel Thirteen/WNET nationally broadcast the Roundabout=s production of The Man Who Came To Dinner, the first production in its new permanent home in the American Airlines Theatre on 42nd Street. Channel Thirteen/WNET also broadcast the star-studded production of The Women this summer. Since moving to Broadway in 1991, Roundabout productions have received 78 Tony nominations, 80 Drama Desk nominations and 92 Outer Critics Circle nominations. In 1995, Roundabout expanded its repertoire to include the premieres of new plays by great writers of the present day. To that end, Roundabout presents its off-Broadway Laura Pels Theatre Season, where new works by writers such as Brian Friel, Paula Vogel, Richard Greenberg, Beth Henley and Harold Pinter have been featured. Beyond the work on stage, Roundabout is recognized as a national leader in audience development and offers a comprehensive program of initiatives including the Solo Series, the Early Curtain Series, the Wine Series, the Gay and Lesbian Series and related humanities events and publications. 2002 marks the inaugural Jason Robards Award created by the Rounbabout recognizing excellence in theatre. The first award was presented to Christopher Plummer at the company's spring Gala. In addition, through arts and educational programs, Roundabout reaches over 7,000 New York City public high school students and their teachers each year. With a focus on in-depth programming, these activities range from professional development for teachers to in-school artist residencies to student matinees at our Broadway and off-Broadway theatres. Through national tours, live broadcasts, education and outreach programs and its work on three stages, Roundabout touches the lives of millions of theatre-goers, students and artists across the country.

Roundabout Theatre Company productions are made possible, in part, with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts; New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; New York State Council on the Arts; and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. American Airlines is the official airline of Roundabout Theatre Company. JP Morgan Chase & Co. is the proud sponsor of The JP Morgan Chase Family Series.