The singer and the song
In an article which appeared in the ‘Los Angeles Times’ late in 2001, referring to the award-winning stage production, ‘BIG RIVER’, the reviewer commented that the voice of the mourning Mary Jane sounded ‘straight from the hills.’ The musical is based on the story of Huckleberry Finn, and in the role of Mary Jane (Huck’s girlfriend) was Melissa van der Schyff, a young singer/actress from Victoria, British Columbia, who had left there to acquire a B.F.A. Acting at the College of Santa Fe, N.M.,and to study at the British American Drama Academy in London, where she appeared in ‘OLD HEADS AND YOUNG HEARTS’ at the Drill Hall. Since that time she has gone from strength to strength—to Broadway, where she won a Tony Honour for Special Achievement in Theatre, along with cast mates of Big River—to numerous other productions including films and sitcoms, and, most recently ‘AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT: A Vaudeville'(South Coast Rep, and the musical; 'ZHIVAGO' (La Jolla Playhouse). At present she is rehearsing for her role as Catherine in the classic 'PIPPIN, the music list of which includes the names of many great people who, in years gone by, have played this role on Broadway.
As a singer, composer, and an Independent Music Award finalist, she has many CDs to her credit, including her début pop album,‘Urban Peasant’, an original recording for which she was voted ARTIST OF THE YEAR by fans across the world on www.Femmusic.com. According to New York City's Show Business Magazine, “If you are looking for something different, Van der Schyff's new twist on pop is a winner on every front.” However, ‘Urban Peasant’ is not the one pertaining to this story. It was in ‘Freddy’, a track from an earlier CD with the intriguing title, ‘ MRS… STANLEYBALL’, that I heard, for myself, that 'mourning Mary Jane' voice. Her accent is different. It is her own, but that plaintive something is there…only this time the longing is sincere…
“Hey Freddy last night I imagined
that you built yourself a rocket ship.
Blasting through space and time
you went back to the ship where you played mandolin on African Seas for the troops
so they wouldn't be scared when they hit the front line…”
The man about whom she is singing, is her grandfather, and the ship is the MONARCH OF BERMUDA.—Although it is specifically to this vessel that she refers, she could have been alluding to any one of many. Ships of dreams — nightmares come true!…Gateways to hope — ships of hell…!
West Theatre Reimagines Hit '70s Musical Pippin
Deaf West's "Big River" proved you could stage a musical with performers who can't hear music. Next up: "Pippin"!
Melissa is currently rehearsing for her role as Blanche, Clyde's sister-in-law, in the soon to be staged musical version of "Bonnie and Clyde."