MILWAUKEE’S FIRST STAGE PRESENTS ‘BIG RIVER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’

Adapted for family audiences from the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, BIG RIVER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn tells the story of Huck and his friend Jim, a slave, as they travel along the mighty Mississippi River. Huck tries to help Jim escape to freedom and reunite with his family. Their shared journey of discovery proves humorous, suspenseful and heartwarming. Mark Twain’s timeless classic comes alive on stage at First Stage in this coming-of-age musical which features live bluegrass music with fiddles, guitar, harmonica, piano and more. With captivating live music under the musical direction of Paul Helm and with new arrangements and orchestrations by William Yanesh, BIG RIVER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will inspire as it enlightens.

This is a world premiere co-production with The Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, in association with Rogers and Hammerstein Theatricals and First Stage. Support for BIG RIVER comes from Sponsor, Actuant Corporation, Producers, Julia and Bladen Burns, with workshops and related activities sponsored by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

BIG RIVER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn runs March 15 – April 14, 2019 at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Marcus Center Box Office at 929 N. Water Street, by phone at (414) 273-7206 or online at www.firststage.orgPerformance runtime is approximately 90 minutes, including intermission. Suggested for families with young people ages 10 – 17+.

Director Marti Gobel commented, “It is with great joy that I work on BIG RIVER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at First Stage. Mark Twain has offered us a story of one of the most powerful friendships found in the American canon. Through the friendship of Huck and Jim we can also come to a greater understanding of the beauty found in unlearning some of this country’s negative traditions. Along with this most powerful friendship, we have the majesty of the Mississippi River to help us on our storytelling journey. It is an honor to work on the second production of BIG RIVER under the First Stage umbrella.”

“We are proud of being a part of the team to bring this re-imagined classic to the stage,” added First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank. “Our friends at Adventure Theatre-MTC worked with a group of ‘consensus organizers’ – more than 100 African-American civil rights and community activists who offered their feedback during the script development process. Removing racial slurs from the script was an early step. As their Artistic Director Michael Bobbitt shares, ‘We are maintaining the history of the piece and the essence of Mark Twain’s novel, but we’re getting rid of anything that is offensive or reinjuring for people.’ In addition, this new adaptation for family audiences further underscores the moral authority of a runaway slave like Jim and a young slave named Alice; in this new version, it is Alice rather than Huck who introduces and frames the story to be told, and Jim and Huck share much of the narrative load. In telling that story, our focus will be on the growing friendship between Huck and Jim, who drift down the Mississippi toward slavery while finding freedom, as their love overcomes the hatred that threatens to drown them.”

BIOGRAPHIES

William Hauptman (Playwright) was born in Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and the Yale School of Drama. His plays include HEAT, SHEARWATERGILLETTE and DOMINO COURTS, which won a 1977 Village Voice Obie Award. BIG RIVER, written in collaboration with composer Roger Miller, won seven 1985 Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical. His fiction has appeared in The Best American Short StoriesThe Atlantic MonthlySouthwest Review and includes the novel, Storm Season. He has also written several screenplays for the studios. Mr. Hauptman has taught at the Yale Drama School, the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and lives in Brooklyn.

Roger Miller (Composer) was born in Texas and grew up in Oklahoma. He made his first significant mark on the entertainment world as a songwriter of such hits as “Invitation to the Blues,” “Billy Bayou,” “In the Summertime (You Don’t Want My Love),” “When Two Worlds Collide,” “Home, Half A Mind” and “That’s The Way I Feel.” Roger Miller’s songs transcend the boundaries of any category. Numerous artists have had both pop and country success with his songs, including Miller himself, whose inspired lunacy and expressive voice carried his own recordings to the top of both the pop and country charts, sweeping the Grammy Awards two years in a row. After a career that encompassed recordings and concerts, television and motion pictures, Miller made his Broadway debut in 1985 as the composer and lyricist for the musical BIG RIVER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was the smash hit of the season, winning an astounding seven Tony Awards including one for Miller’s score, and was named Best Musical of the season.

Marti Gobel (Director/Choregrapher) is a local actor, director and teaching artist. A proud member of AEA and SAG-AFTRA, Ms. Gobel has enjoyed a rich career both on and off the stage.  In addition to past works with First Stage as a teacher and actor, she has worked with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Renaissance Theaterworks, Next Act Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Forward Theatre, Optimist Theatre and Door Shakespeare. Dedicated to promoting diversity in the arts, she is thrilled to work with First Stage in the telling of this legendary tale.

Mike Fischer (Assistant Director/Dramaturg) is a dramaturg based in Milwaukee. For the past 15 years, he has seen over 200 plays each year on behalf of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for which he began reviewing in 2003 and for which he served as chief drama critic from 2009-18. Since leaving the Journal Sentinel, Mike has written essays and educational materials for Wisconsin theater productions staged at Forward Theater Company, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Next Act Theatre and Renaissance Theaterworks. Mike dedicates his work on this production to the great Mark Twain, fierce antiracist and brilliant satirist.

Paul Helm (Music Director/Pianist) is always happy to return to First Stage! Previous First Stage credits include CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, Roald Dahl’s JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, BIG FISH, SEUSSICAL, U: BUG: ME!, MY SON PINOCCHIO, ALEXANDER…VERY BAD DAY, JUNIE B. JONES…MONKEY BUSINESS, THE HAPPY ELF, A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD and THE QUILTMAKER’S GIFT. Paul has performed, directed and music directed with the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Florida Studio Theatre, Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, Sacramento Theatre Company, freeFall Theatre Company, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Fireside Theatre, Skylight Music Theatre, American Folklore Theatre, Florentine Opera Company, Bucknell University, Marquette University and the UW-Platteville Heartland Festival. He was also a vocalist for DISNEY ON CLASSIC, a three-month symphony concert tour of Japan with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Paul resides in New York City. www.paulhelm.net.

ADULT CAST

Andrew Crowe (Judge Thatcher) is thrilled to be back at First Stage with this fearless group of storytellers. He was last seen on this stage in the world premiere of Finegan Kruckemeyer’s THE SNOW. Andrew composed all-original music to underscore that show and played the role of Connor the Calm. Other local appearances include GREAT EXPECTATIONS at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and PUMP BOYS & DINETTES at Skylight Music Theatre. Andrew has toured the country extensively, including three national tours and over 60 regional theater productions. Andrew is also a singer-songwriter, and he has recently finished building a music studio on a little piece of land in North Carolina that he calls Narnia.

Matt Daniels (King/Ensemble) is a frequent collaborator at First Stage, as an actor (THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE, A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, ELLA ENCHANTED, SHREK THE MUSICAL, A MIDNIGHT CRY and A WRINKLE IN TIME, among others), director and movement director (Roald Dahl’s JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, THE SNOW, RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™: THE MUSICAL, among others) and Director of the Young Company, where he teaches and directs (HENRY V, ANIMAL FARM, TXT U L8R, OUR TOWN, among others). Matt’s other acting credits include appearances at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Renaissance Theaterworks, In Tandem Theater, and the late Milwaukee Shakespeare, as well as Forward Theater, Kentucky Repertory Theatre, Lake Geneva Theater Company, several regional Shakespeare Festivals and on many independent stages in New York. In addition to First Stage, his directing work has been seen at MCT’s New Play Development series, Sunset Playhouse, goats & monkeys and in New York with his company Tyrannosaurus rep. An avid ukulelist, he is working on his first album, “Welcome to Clowntown.” Matt is a graduate of the Juilliard School Drama Division. www.MattDanielsOnline.com.

DiMonte Henning (Jim) is excited to return to First Stage for Big River, after having last performed in The Wiz as Scarecrow. A native of Milwaukee, DiMonte received his theatre training from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and received additional training from Milwaukee Rep’s Emerging Professional Residency. DiMonte serves as Producing Artistic Director of the performing arts organization, Lights! Camera! Soul! Previous theater credits include: Junk (Milwaukee Repertory Theater); Skeleton Crew (Forward Theater Company); Dreamgirls (Milwaukee Repertory Theater); Black Nativity (Black Arts MKE); Deathtrap (Milwaukee Chamber Theatre); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Theatre Lila); Burying the Bones (In Tandem Theatre) and Hair (Skylight Music Theatre). TV and film credits include: Guest-starring roles on NBC’s Chicago PDUBERCousins Subs and Harley-Davidson.

Chris Klopatek (Duke/Ensemble) is returning to First Stage after last performing in GOOSEBUMPS THE MUSICAL: PHANTOM OF THE AUDITORIUM. He was most recently seen as Crumpet The Elf in THE SANTALAND DIARIES at Two Crows Theatre. Last summer, Chris was at American Players Theatre, where he played Orlando in AS YOU LIKE IT and performed in BORN YESTERDAY and MEASURE FOR MEASURE. Acting on stages across Wisconsin and the United States, Chris was born and raised in Milwaukee and loves being home! He has an M.F.A. from UC-Irvine. Coming up, he will be playing Smee in First Stage’s TINKER BELL.

Kat Wodtke (Women) is so pleased to be back at First Stage after appearing last season in THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE. Kat studied at First Stage Theater Academy as a young performer and went on to earn her Bachelor’s Degree in Theater Arts from the University of Minnesota. In 2012, Kat made Milwaukee her home again and has since had the privilege of performing with Renaissance Theaterworks, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, First Stage, Forward Theater Company, Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Optimist Theatre, among others. Kat has also performed with Perseverance Theatre and Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre in Alaska. She is a proud educator for the Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee Repertory Theater and [email protected] She moonlights as a songwriter with her band, Long Mama.

Elliott Brotherhood (Young Fool) is thrilled to be returning to First Stage. Previous First Stage credits include: Roald Dahl’s MATILDA The Musical (Artistic Intern/Ensemble); THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR SHOW (Understudy); ROBIN HOOD (Deputy); CRASH (Mike Deluca); SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS (Wiggins); THE HUNDRED DRESSES (Willy Bounce); and THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH (Mr. Antrobus) and HENRY V (King Henry V) through the First Stage Young Company. Other selected theater credits include TWELFTH NIGHT, THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD, JULIUS CAESAR and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at Door Shakespeare and LOST GIRL (Peter) at Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

The adult cast for BIG RIVER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at First Stage includes: Andrew Crowe, Member of Actor’s Equity Association, as Judge Thatcher; Matt Daniels, Member of Actor’s Equity Association, as King/Ensemble; DiMonte Henning, Member of Actor’s Equity Association, as Jim; Chris Klopatek, Member of Actor’s Equity Association, as Duke/Ensemble and Kat Wodtke as Women and Elliott Brotherhood as Young Fool.

YOUNG PERFORMER CASTS

Young Performer roles are double cast. Young Performers in the Clemens Cast include: Luke Brotherhood (from Mequon) as Huck; Terynn Erby-Walker (from Milwaukee) as Alice; Georgina Pink (from Shorewood) as Mary Jane; Eve Anderson (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Jonathan Edwards (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Charlieze Clevert (from Glendale) as Ensemble; Selma Rivera (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Saraí Santiago (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Ariel Nelson (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Kyra Mathias (from Oconomowoc) as Ensemble; Lily Wiemer (from Wauwatosa) as Ensemble; Zachary Church (from West Bend) as Ensemble and Isabella Ruddock (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble.

Young Performers in the Twain Cast include: Ben Kindler (from Brookfield) as Huck; Tarynn Lassiter (from Menomonee Falls) as Alice; Mackenzie Ross (from Sheboygan) as Mary Jane; Sidonie Stern (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Brandon Hale (from Port Washington) as Ensemble; Erianna Ashmore-Purifoy (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Gabriela Bastardo(from St. Francis) as Ensemble; Sanaiah Hibbler (from Oak Creek) as Ensemble; Maya O’Day Biddle (from Franklin) as Ensemble; Mathilde Prosen-Oldani (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Kate Michael (from Fredonia) as Ensemble; Andrew Kindler (from Brookfield) as Ensemble and Megan Jacobs (Greendale) as Ensemble.

The Artistic Staff for BIG RIVER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn includes: Marti Gobel (Director/Choregrapher);Mike Fischer (Assistant Director/Dramaturg); Paul Helm (Music Director/Pianist); Kurt Boetcher (Scenic Designer); Jesse Klug, USAA, (Lighting Designer); Samantha Jones, USAA, (Costume Designer); Matt Whitmore (Sound Designer);Marissa Ashlyn, Member of Actor’s Equity Association, (Stage Manager) and Emily Wright (Assistant Stage Manager).

Tickets start at $15 – Tickets may be purchased at www.firststage.org or through the Marcus Center Box Office, in person at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee or by phone (414) 273-7206 or toll free at (888) 612-3500. The number for TDD (for deaf and hard of hearing patrons) is (414) 273-3080.

Group Sales – Groups of 10 or more receive 15% off main floor, regular single ticket prices on most First Stage performances at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater. Call (414) 267-2964 or email [email protected] for more information.

First Stage Family Packages – any combination of tickets for three or more plays in the 2018/19 season – are on sale now. Family package prices are available at up to 30% off the cost of regular single ticket prices. Benefits include unlimited ticket exchanges, backstage tours and more.

Special events for BIG RIVER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

UNCOMMON FRIENDSHIPS: AN EVENING OF DISCOVERY!: Friday, March 29, 2019 from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center

Explore further the powerful story told through BIG RIVER and its relevance today. Hear guest speakers Arno Michaelisand Pardeep Kaleka share their story of uncommon friendship – and participate in fun and dynamic theater and group activities that will lead to reflection and discovery. Facilitated by Dominic Inouye, the founder and director of ZIP MKE.To learn more, go to: www.firststage.org/uncommonfriendships.

TECH TALKS – Sunday, March 24 and March 31, following the 3:30 p.m. performance

Following select performances, learn more about the behind-the-scenes magic at this extended talkback with our creative team.

Pay What You Choose Performance: Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at 7:00 p.m.

Pay What You Choose tickets are available on a first come, first served basis with a minimum suggested donation of $5 per person. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. on the day of the performance. Patrons are encouraged to arrive early.

ASL Interpreted Performance: Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 1:00 p.m.

This performance will be sign language interpreted for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Assistive listening devices are also available at the Todd Wehr Theater.

Sensory Friendly Performance: Saturday, March 23 at 3:30 p.m. 

A Sensory Friendly Performance with accommodations for families with children on the autism spectrum will take place on Saturday, March 23 at 3:30 p.mSensory accommodations include lower sound, house lights up, a quiet area staffed by an educator experienced with the care of students on the autism spectrum and other developmental differences, and more. Contact the First Stage Box Office at (414) 267-2961 to reserve your tickets.

About First Stage

First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves over 2,100 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs promote literacy, character building and experiential learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students each year. First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2012), and was the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Eureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education and the arts for its Next Steps program for students on the autism spectrum (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Milwaukee Arts Partners and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).