Big River Closed in L.A., But Deaf West Confident Revival Will Have Life Beyond

News   Big River Closed in L.A., But Deaf West Confident Revival Will Have Life Beyond
Deaf West's Ovation Award-winning revival of Big River, a unique production using both hearing and non-hearing actors, will have a life beyond its Los Angeles run, Deaf West producing director Bill O'Brien said, citing Broadway as a future possibilty.

"We are very excited about the interest the show has generated in New York and in other places and are examining a number of possible designs for the future of the production.  We are confident that there will continue to be a life for the show and we anticipate knowing more particulars about its future soon," he said.

Back in June, 2002, the show's director and choreographer Jeff Calhoun told Playbill On-Line that he was definitely interested in bringing the Deaf West revival to Broadway with Jujamcyn's Rocco Landesman as a possible producing partner. O'Brien said some of the funding for moving the production to another venue is already in place.

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 speaking and singing and one 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.

Big River closed its second Los Angeles run, this time at the Mark Taper Forum, Jan. 5 after extending for an extra week. Performances began Nov. 14.

Featured in the Los Angeles were several Broadway caliber performers including Rufus Bonds, Jr., Gwen Stewart and Tony Award winner Phyllis Frelich. A veteran of Rent and Parade, Bonds comes to Big River after starring as Mufasa in L.A.'s company of The Lion King. Bonds 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. Also in the cast were 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.

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."

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