Muddy waters: The complexities of casting a musical about race | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 7, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 1750-3159
  • E-ISSN: 1750-3167



In 2005, two high-school seniors from Glenelg Country Day School in Maryland were denied permission to perform the song ‘Muddy Water’ from the musical Big River on the C-SPAN television programme, Close Up (Close Up Foundation 2005). The broadcasting licence was not granted by the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization because Jay Frisby, who played Huckleberry Finn, is African American, and Nick Lehan, a caucasian, played slave Jim. This article explores the event from numerous angles, detailing the media firestorm that followed. The author discusses the complexities of casting a musical about race and questions the terminology often used to describe casting practices. Are terms such as ‘colour-blind’ and ‘non-traditional casting’ accurate? More importantly, what ideology do these terms support?


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