Big River

About the Director

Fr. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A.

Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A. (Director) is chairperson of the Villanova University theatre department and teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in dramaturgy, musical theatre, and theatrical experience. He has received five Barrymore nominations for Outstanding Direction of a Musical for Parade, Children of Eden, Into the Woods, Evita, and Chicago, which received nine nominations and three 2002 Barrymore Awards, including Outstanding Direction of a Musical. Other directing credits at Villanova include City of Angels, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, West Side Story, Candide, and Once on This Island. His recent appearances on the Vasey stage include Twelfth Night, Don Juan, The Trojan Women, and The Passion of Christ.

Press Release


Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A. Stages the Tony Award-winning Musical April 5-24, 2005

Villanova Theatre ends the 2004-2005 season with the Tony Award-winning musical Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, based on the classic 19th-century American novel by Mark Twain. Big River is directed by Villanova theatre department chairperson Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., a five-time Barrymore nominee and winner of the 2002 Barrymore Award for Outstanding Direction of a Musical. Performances are April 5–24, 2005, at Vasey Hall on the Villanova University campus. Showtimes are 8:00pm Tuesday–Saturday and 2:00pm Sunday. Tickets are $18–$22, with discounts for seniors, students, and groups, and may be ordered by calling the Villanova Theatre Box Office at (610) 519-7474. Additional information is available online at

Big River follows the adventures of the rebellious Huck Finn and the runaway slave Jim as the two board a raft and set sail down the mighty Mississippi River searching for freedom and discovering the value of true friendship. This classic tale of adventure and self-discovery is a heartwarming piece of Americana and the winner of seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score for its homespun mix of country, jazz, and gospel music. Musical numbers include, "Do You Wanna Go To Heaven?," "Waiting for the Light to Shine," "Muddy Water," and "Worlds Apart."

The original production of Big River opened on Broadway in April 1985 and ran for 1,005 performances. The show features music and lyrics by Roger Miller, one of the great country singer-songwriters of the 1960’s. Miller’s hit records include “Invitation to the Blues,” “King of the Road,” and “Dang Me.” He received an unprecedented 11 Grammy Awards and held that record for 20 years. Big River was Miller’s last major work; he died in 1992 at the age of 56.

“There is a nice corollary between the music and the novel,” said Donohue. “In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain was drawing from his experiences growing up in Hannibal, Missouri. When Miller wrote Big River he was using the musical styles and language he heard as a child in Oklahoma.”

William Hauptman, whose plays include Heat, Domino Courts (Obie Award), and Gillette (Drama-Logue Award), wrote the book for Big River, keeping much of Twain’s narrative and dialogue intact.“The book for Big River is very faithful to Twain’s novel,” said Donohue. “Whole passages have been lifted verbatim and there are many scenes that audiences will immediately recognize from the novel.”

Since its publication in America in 1885, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been one of the most celebrated – and condemned – novels in modern fiction. It has been banned from libraries and schools because of its coarse language, racism, and satirization of American morality and acclaimed for its honest portrayal of life in the South at the end of the 19th century. Ernest Hemingway declared that “all modern American literature comes from one book...Huckleberry Finn.”

While this controversial novel would seem to be a peculiar choice to adapt into a musical, Donohue points out that it is an “uplifting and ultimately positive story about a young man’s journey to look beyond the surface and learn to value the inspiration he receives from unlikely sources.“

Big River features many strong performances from the graduate theatre department’s male students, including Larry Cox, Jr. as Huck Finn, Nick Falco as Tom Sawyer, Brian Manelski as Judge Thatcher, Harvey Wilkes, and Silas Phelps, Jason J. Michael as The King, and Josh Sauerman as The Duke. Guest actor Michael Hogan portrays the runaway slave Jim. Rounding out the 21-member cast are Michael Barr, Leigh Ann Brienza, Jennifer Brown, Deborah Crane, Joseph Cutalo, Justin Damm, Tricia Elms, Lizzie Hetzer, Andy Joos, Tonilyn Longo, Francine Marchelle, Elizabeth Pool, Luc Radu, Brian Stike, and Kimberly Carol Townsend.

The Big River production team includes Scenic Designer Dirk Durossette, Costume Designer Janus Stefanowicz, Lighting Designer Jerold R. Forsyth, Properties Designer cdavid hall-cottrill, Sound Designer John Stovicek, Choreographer Barby Hobyak-Roche, and Dramaturg Leah MacKenzie. Music Director Jim Ryan will lead a seven-member orchestra.

Big River performs April 5–24, 2005. Press Opening is Wednesday, April 6, at 8:00pm. Tickets are $18–$22, with discounts for seniors, groups, and students. For tickets and information, please call the Villanova Theatre Box Office at 610-519-7474 or log on to

Production Photos

image from production of Big River
Ensemble in "Do Ya Wanna Go To Heaven?
image from production of Big River
Miss Watson (Elizabeth Pool), Widow Douglas (Deborah Crane), Pap Finn (Andy Joos), Huckleberry Fin (Larry Cox, Jr.), and Judge Thatcher (Brian Maneklsi)
image from production of Big River
Huck (Larry Cox, Jr.) and the Gang (Justin Damm, Tricia Elms, Nick Falco, Joseph Cutalo, and Michael Barr)
image from production of Big River
Jim (Michael Hogan), The King (Jason J. Michael), Huck (Larry Cox, Jr.), and The Duke (Josh Sauerman)
image from production of Big River
Lafe (Justin Damm), Hank (Michael Barr), and Andy (Joseph Cutalo)
image from production of Big River
Huck (Larry Cox, Jr.) and Mary Jane Wilkes (Tonilyn Longo)

Cast of Characters

Mark Twain/ Pap Finn/ Doctor: Andy Joos
Huckleberry Finn: Larry Cox, Jr.
Widow Douglas: Deborah Crane
Miss Watson/ Sally Phelps: Elizabeth Pool
Jim: Michael Hogan
Tom Sawyer: Nick Falco
Judge Thatcher/ Harvey Wilkes/ Silas Phelps: Brian Manelski
Shanty Lady/ Harlot: Jennifer Brown
Simon/ Skiff Man/ Lafe: Justin Damm
Dick/ Andy/ Skiff Man: Joseph Cutalo
Ben/ Hank/ Fool: Michael Barr
The King: Jason J. Michael
The Duke: Josh Sauerman
Mary Jane Wilkes: Tonilyn Longo
Susan Wilkes/ Harlot: Lizzie Hetzer
Joanna Wilkes/ Jo Harper: Tricia Elms
Alice: Francine Maŕchelle
Daughter: Kimberly Carol Townsend
Sheriff: Brian Stike
Townswoman/ Harlot/ Mourner: Leigh Ann Brienza
Overseer/ Townsman/ Mourner: Luc Radu