CHAPEL HILL – PlayMakers Repertory Company will conclude its 35th anniversary Mainstage Season with “Big River” April 6-24 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Tony Award-winning musical features a score of gospel, folk and country music, which The Red Clay Ramblers, also Tony winners, will perform live during the shows. “Big River” will be the first musical in more than a decade for the professional theater company in residence at UNC.
“Big River,” adapted from Mark Twain’s landmark novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, won Drama Desk Awards and seven Tony Awards for its 1985 Broadway debut and 2003 revival, including best book, best score and best musical. Music and lyrics are by country music legend Roger Miller (“King of the Road,” “Dang Me”), and the book is by William Hauptman, author of plays, musicals and short stories.
“Big River” follows Huck Finn and his friend, run-away slave Jim, on their adventures traveling the mighty Mississippi River in search of freedom. Their story has become an honored piece of American folklore and the novel, an American classic.
The Hollywood Reporter called the show “ambitious, daring, captivating and outright terrific.” “Like the mighty metaphor of its title… [‘Big River’] seeps into the soul and transports you to a place that is complicated and mysterious, profoundly moving and soul cleansing,” said The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
PlayMakers’ producing artistic director Joseph Haj will direct the production. The Ramblers’ Jack Herrick will act as music director. Herrick and the Ramblers also collaborated on the original Broadway-bound production in 1984. The Ramblers earned a special Tony in the 1990s for their collaboration on “Fool Moon.”
Herrick has created music for Haj-directed productions of “Pericles” (PlayMakers’ 2008 season opener) and “Hamlet” (2010, Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C.) The Haj-Herrick production of “Hamlet” recently garnered five nominations for the capital city’s coveted Helen Hayes Awards, including outstanding play, outstanding director for Haj and outstanding sound designer for Herrick.
All “Big River” performances will be in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC’s Department for Dramatic Art on Country Club Road. Show times will be 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and Sunday, April 10; 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 16 and 23; and 2 p.m. Sundays. Additional performances have been added to the previously announced run due to popular demand. For a complete schedule, more information and to purchase tickets, call (919) 962-PLAY (7529) or visit www.playmakersrep.org. Tickets are $10 to $45.
On March 30 at 6:30 p.m. PlayMakers will host “The Vision Series: Directors in Conversation” with director Haj. Anyone interested in the creative process is invited to the Paul Green Theatre to share wine, coffee and other refreshments, along with a behind-the-scenes preview of the upcoming production. “The Vision Series” is free to the public. Reservations are encouraged, as space is limited. Call PlayMakers’ box office at 919.962.7529 to RSVP.
In conjunction with “Big River,” PlayMakers is presenting a number of community events through the Southern Voices project, funded by an Access to Artistic Excellence Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The initiative partners the theater company with libraries, schools, book stores and civic organizations. Special events during “Big River” will include:
• March 21, 7 p.m.: “In the Wings,” a series created by PlayMakers and the Durham County Library. Cast and creative team members (designers, actors and production personnel) discuss the play at the Main Library, 300 N. Roxboro St., downtown Durham;
• March 28 at 6 p.m.; a program with the director and company members at McIntyre’s Books, Fearrington Village, Pittsboro;
• preview performances April 6, 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m.;
• the opening night performance on April 9 at 7:30 p.m., with a complimentary gala party afterward;
• April 13 and 17: free post-show discussions with members of the “Big River” creative team (designers, actors and production personnel);
• April 16, noon: “The Prologue Series,” created by PlayMakers and the Chapel Hill Library, a pre-show conversation at the library with a member of the PlayMakers creative team. The library on Library Drive, off Estes Drive near East Franklin Street;
• an all-access performance for attendees with special needs, with sign language interpretation and audio description, on April 19. For more information or to register, call (919) 962-PLAY (7529); and
• April 23 and 24: post-show “Mindplay” discussions sponsored by the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society.
Visit www.playmakersrep.org for a complete schedule.
“Big River” is supported in part by a grant from the N.C. Arts Council. Carolina Meadows and NetApp are co-producing sponsors.
After “Big River,” PlayMakers will present Joan Didion’s stage adaptation of her award-winning memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking” as the theater’s PRC2 second-stage series finale (April 27 – May 1).
PlayMakers is based in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. The Drama League has named PlayMakers one of the “best regional theatre companies in America.”
Coverage note: Media are welcome to cover “The Vision Series” preview with director Joseph Haj on March 30 at 6:30 p.m. Photography, videography, lights and flashes are not restricted. For assistance, call (919) 428-1744.
PlayMakers contact: Connie Mahan, (919) 428-1744, firstname.lastname@example.org