Big River opened on Broadway at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre April 25, 1985. The production, staged by Des McAnuff with choreography by Janet Watson, played 22 previews and 1,005 performances before closing September 20, 1987. The musical earned 10 Tony Award nominations, winning seven including Best Musical.
Based on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Big River follows rebellious teenager Huck who takes off on a raft with runaway slave Jim, encountering conmen, an orphaned family, and bigotry along the way. The musical featured music and lyrics by Roger Miller and a book by William Hauptman.
The production starred Daniel Jenkins as Huckleberry Finn, Ron Richardson as Jim, René Auberjonois as the Duke, Patti Cohenour as Mary Janes Wilkes, Bob Gunton as the King, John Short as Tom Sawyer. Rounding out the cast were Evalyn Baron, Susan Browning, John Goodman, Andi Henig, William Youmans, Reathel Bean, Michael Brian, Ralph Byers, Gordon Connell, Carol Dennis, Aramis Estevez, Peggy Harmon, Elmore James, Franz Jones, and Jennifer Leigh Warren.
Big River featured scenic design by Heidi Landesman, costume design by Patricia mcGourty, lighting design by Richard Riddell, and sound design by Otts Munderloh with stage management by Frank Hartenstein, Steven Adler, and Marianne Crane.
The musical returned to Broadway in an American Sign Language adaptation in 2003, directed by Jeff Calhoun and starring Tyrone Giordano, Michael McElroy, Michael Arden, and more.