Coping and Overcoming Illness

A Deaf Actor Signs Up for Broadway Stardom

UPDATED 08/25/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/25/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

Like Huck Finn, Tyrone Giordano savors simple pleasures. As a child, he recalls, "I would lie in the night, with the stars, listening to crickets." Born mostly deaf, he gradually lost his hearing. Today he wears hearing aids and communicates using speech and sign language. The crickets are just a memory. "I can't hear them," says Giordano, 27. "I really miss that."

Those memories are with him each night on Broadway, where he stars in the musical Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Originally mounted at Los Angeles' Deaf West Theatre, the production uses both deaf and hearing actors. Giordano performs the role of Huck using American Sign Language, while hearing actor Daniel Jenkins stands nearby, speaking and singing for him. Likewise, other deaf actors are paired with hearing doubles who lend their voices in speech and song. Critics also are speaking up for Giordano: Variety said "his marvelously expressive face, his agile body and deft hands, form their own sort of chamber orchestra."

Born in Tarriffville, Conn., to deaf parents, Giordano battled self-doubt until he attended Gallaudet University—the nation's foremost college for the deaf—in Washington, D.C., where he studied English. But after a friend took him to an acting audition in 1999, he was hooked on theater. And why not? "It doesn't matter what language you use," says Giordano. "A smile is a smile, a frown is a frown."

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