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Join Us in Bringing Untold Stories of Courage to the Stage

A True American Musical

“The Cataract House” musical is a groundbreaking theatrical venture that promises to shine a spotlight on a pivotal, yet largely untold, chapter of American history. Set against the breathtaking backdrop of Niagara Falls in the summer of 1853, this production weaves a compelling narrative of freedom, courage, and the indomitable human spirit.

The Story

At the heart of “The Cataract House” is the historic Cataract House Hotel, a beacon of luxury that secretly served as one of the most critical conduits on the Underground Railroad. Led by head waiter John Morrison and his brave African American staff, the hotel was a safe haven for countless freedom seekers on their perilous journey to Canada. This musical brings to life their intricate dance of service and subterfuge, celebrating the unsung heroes of the Underground Railroad with an inspiring blend of text, song, and traditional African American dance forms.

The Creative Team

Cataract House is a theatrical collaboration, composed by a team of theatre makers, historians and educators dedicated to bringing the story and its characters to the stage with artistry, diversity, authenticity and vision.

  • James Edward Becton III

    The Becton International Black Theater & ARTS Consortium (TBIBT)

    James Edward Becton III (Executive Director). A Western New York Native; Born in Buffalo, reared in Niagara Falls, educated in Lewiston, NY, schooled in New York City, is a United States Army Veteran, a multi-disciplined, multifacete, multi-unionized, National/International, Award-winning, professional performance arts practitioner, broker, and educator. Becton, with over 35 years in storytelling, has since pivoted into the role of Founding Executive Artistic Director of The Becton International Black Theater & ARTS Consortium (TBIBT) and its pillars of Representation, Rehabilitation, and Redevelopment on the foundations of ARTS Entertainment and Education (@TheBectonArts, @Jthe3rd , www.theBecton.com ).

  • Dennis Wilson

    Director and Choreographer

    Dennis was born and raised in Niagara Falls, NY. He attended Niagara University where he earned a BFA in Theatre Arts and a Med in Education Administration from Grand Canyon University and is a member of The Actor’s Equity Association (AEA). Dennis has performed in the National and Canadian Touring Companies of Five Guys Named Moe (Little) Dennis is an accomplished choreographer, having staged productions of Sophisticated Ladies, Ragtime, The Wiz, Cabaret, West Side Story, The King and I, Smokey Joe’s Café and Jesus Christ Superstar.

    In 2005, Dennis founded a theatrical production company… Dendewil Productions. Dennis also humbly adds the title of author to his credits having written and self published three books, My Void My Voice (Poetry 2012), Eros De-nnis (Poetry 2013), Morning Coffee Thoughts (Positive Affirmations 2016).Most recently Dennis wrote, produced and directed his first web series. The Therapist, which had it’s premiere in October 2021. Dennis currently resides in Niagara Falls and teaches theatre at Niagara Falls High School.

  • Ayrian Gridiron

    Music Director and Composer

    Ayrian is a Singer, Vocal Coach, and a Music & Singing Instructor. Raised in Bakersfield, CA, Ayrian earned a BA degree in Sociology with a Minor in Music, and a MS degree in School Counseling from California State University, Bakersfield.

    Stepping into a career in music began in 2011. Private singing lessons were made available for singers, choirs, and praise teams. A vocal exercise CD entitled, ExerciSING with Ayrian Gridiron: Vocal Warm-Ups for Every Singer followed after. Expanding her services now includes vocal coaching, performance prep, and Musicals. Ayrian was the Vocal Director for Memphis the Musical at Stars Theater. She has been in two Stars musicals, An Amy Adam Christmas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame Ayrian has had the privilege of developing voices for 13 years. In 2019 Ayrian began developing the idea of what today is called Explore Music Classes. Explore Music is a youth centered general music program that offers singing and instrumental classes for individuals and groups in the K-12th grade as well as Individuals with developmental disabilities. Students are able to enroll in six classes for Public, Charter, Private Schools, and Academy programs. Students enjoy learning,singing and making music while learning the elements of music.

    As a session singer and voice talent Ayrian has voiced over 80 singing & voice over projects around the world. Credits include Universal Production Music, Swede from 808 Mafia, BLXST, Audiobook Free: Totally Free by Samantha Freeman, online reading tutoring program Vivo Phonics, the music teaching app called “Simply Piano”, by “Simply” (FKA JoyTunes), and the 2022 HBO Short Film Winner, “Another Country” directed by Sherif Alabede.

    As a SAG-AFTRA member Ayrian has worked with top vocal contractor Tim Davis and has been seen on 911 Lonestar and the Benjamin Moore Paints “See the Love” Commercial. She has had the opportunity to session sing for Jordan Smith, BLXST, Chiquis Rivera, and Jonathan McReynolds. On stage she has performed background vocals for Israel Houghton & New Breed, Muni Long,and Chrystal Rucker.

  • Criston Moore

    Composer

    Criston Moore was born and raised in Bakersfield, California. Being the ninth child of ten children in a family overflowing with musical talent, at the tender age of three, Criston discovered his love for music, taking up the piano and singing. With each passing year, Criston Moore’s musical abilities flourished, transforming him into a sought-after music director/producer for a multitude of groups and artists in his local area. However, his journey didn’t stop there. The calling to lead worship tugged at his heartstrings, and he eagerly embraced the role of worship leader and pastor within his local church. Driven by a deep-rooted passion for music and a genuine desire to connect people with their faith, Criston wholeheartedly devoted himself to guiding others in worship. His talent as a pianist and vocalist, honed over the years, now served a higher purpose.

    However, Criston’s adventure did not come to an end at that point. Countless doors kept swinging wide open for him, presenting him with remarkable chances to showcase his talent on esteemed national platforms like Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), BET, EPSN, National Basketball Association (NBA), and even the highly regarded National Day of Prayer Gathering hosted at the Museum of the Bible playing behind two Speakers of The House.

    In a beautiful twist, Criston Moore has now come full circle, embracing his true passion, and calling. Serving as a dedicated Worship Pastor in his local church and as the Worship Ensembles Director at Cal Baptist University, Criston commits his life to magnifying the profound unity found in faith, resonating harmoniously across the globe. Accompanied by his beloved wife Kelsie and their precious son Jacob, Criston sets a powerful example, extending his leadership and ministry well beyond the stage to infuse his love and faith into every facet of life.

  • Kamala Boeck

    Book and Lyrics

    Kamala grew up in Lewiston, NY and holds a BFA in Theatre Performance from Niagara University and an MFA in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University. She has spent over thirty years developing a diverse career in the Theatre as an educator, performer and theater maker. She has written plays for Young Audiences and adults that incorporate music, dance and puppetry. Works include “Dustbowl Dreams”, “The Talking Stick”, “The Water Play”, “Map Making”, “Becoming Flux” and “When Niagara Falls”. She draws inspiration from the folklore, mythology and history of different cultures and people. She believes that the purpose of theatre artists is to give voice to those who’s stories should and need to be told. She has been on the faculty of California State University at Bakersfield in the Department of Music and Theater since 2005.

    In connection to the importance of diversity in the arts Kamala believes:

    “The stage should be a place where every member of the audience can see themselves and feel they are included. As a theatre artist, it is my charge to work towards creating work that respects and includes other voices, backgrounds, races and cultures from my own. I also must be in service of those voices, listening and learning from them so that when I use my talents as a writer for the stage, I create authentic and truthful characters, plots and themes. To this end I am dependent upon and find much value in the process of collaboration with artists of different races, cultures, sexual orientations, genders and abilities from my own. Their input, guidance and, yes, criticism, are needed to ensure that what I create represents and respects the diverse characters I work to present in my plays.”

  • James Ponzo

    Historical Content Specialist

    James Ponzo II, PhD is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Africana and American Studies Department at the University at Buffalo (SUNY). His research interests involve Late 19th to Early 20th Century, as well as Contemporary, African American Literature, Critical Race Theory, and Black History, Politics, and Popular Culture. His recent dissertation focuses on the works of James Baldwin, their relevance, and significance to this moment in history. His MA thesis centered on major themes from Ralph Ellison’s life and Invisible Man. Additionally, he is currently teaching three classes–Introduction to African American Studies, Public Policies & Social Justice, and African American History. Other courses that he has taught both in person and remotely include the UB Seminar on the History of the Black Community in Buffalo, Black Gender Studies, Black Social & Political Thought, and Research Methods.

    Dr. Ponzo is also a native of Buffalo, New York and is passionate about the education of young people in K-12 and beyond, as well as improving the experience of Black students and other marginalized groups who are represented at UB. In addition to co-authoring a middle and high school curriculum which centers on freedom seekers as environmentalists, he also has two articles which are forthcoming.

  • Saladin Allah

    Historical Content Specialist

    ASaladin Allah is an early childhood educator, author, and the third-great grandson of famed underground railroad freedom seeker Josiah Henson whom Harriet Beecher Stowe used as the primary narrative for her famous 19th Century novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Saladin is the founder of the Atlantis School For Gifted Youngsters, and the author of twenty-three books; five are part of a Curatorial Activism archive in the British Library. He is a featured historian in the 2019 IMAX film ‘Into America’s Wild’ narrated by Morgan Freeman, and a featured historian in the 2020 award-winning docuseries ‘Enslaved’, executive produced by and starring Samuel L. Jackson. Saladin is a featured educator in a 2022 United Nations Outreach Programme on the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery video, a featured historian in ‘Secrets on the Boarder’; The Nature of Things CBC documentary directed by Adrian Callendar, and a producer/featured historian of the Buffalo & Erie County Naval Park exhibit and documentary Two Wars: The Road to Integration.

    Saladin is the Director of the Atlantis School For Gifted Youngsters, Director of Community Engagement at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, Public Art Coordinator for the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, a Machine Inspector for the Niagara County Board of Elections, and a Human Rights Commissioner in the City of Niagara Falls, NY.

Credits

Illustrations by E.B. Lewis and photographs of Cataract House provided by the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center Photograph of waiters courtesy of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

Audtions

Casting Call for Non-union, unpaid Staged Concert of Cataract House

Be part of the International Premier of Cataract House!

Video submissions only. Please prepare a song in the styling of Gospel, Traditional Gospel or CCM and a 2 minute dramatic monologue. Song suggestions can be found below. Rehearsal dates – July 15 – 31st held in Niagara Falls, NY The staged reading will occur in Niagara Falls, NY on August 1, 2024 at the Niagara Falls High School Performing Arts Center and Niagara Falls, Ontario on August 2, 2024 at The Exchange. Passport and/or Enhanced driver’s License is required. ​ Submissions should be emailed between June 27-June 30, 2024 to: dennis.wilson897@gmail.com Please also include headshot and resume if available and vocal range.

Why Your Support Matters

Producing a musical of this scale and significance requires not just talent and vision, but substantial funding. Your donations will go directly towards:

  • Production Costs: Set design, costumes, and technical support to recreate the world of 1853 with historical accuracy and artistic flair.
  • Creative Team: Supporting our dedicated team of writers, directors, choreographers, and historians who are bringing this story to life.
  • Emerging Talent: Funding our innovative Composer Competition, which invites emerging artists to contribute to a diverse and vibrant musical score.
  • Educational Outreach: Ensuring “The Cataract House” reaches a wide audience, including educational programming and community engagement efforts.

How You Can Help

Make a Donation: Every contribution, no matter the size, makes a difference. Help us tell this important story and keep the memory of these brave souls alive.


Spread the Word:Share our mission with friends, family, and on social media. The more people know about “The Cataract House,” the more support we can gather.


Get Involved:There are many ways to support our project beyond donations. Contact us to learn about volunteer opportunities and other ways to contribute.

Your Impact


By supporting “The Cataract House” musical, you’re not just funding a production. You’re honoring the legacy of those who fought for freedom against all odds. You’re also contributing to a cultural project that educates, enlightens, and inspires audiences with the rich tapestry of American history.

Join us in this exciting venture to celebrate the next great American musical. Your support can help illuminate the past, inspire the present, and change the future.

Donate Now Learn More About Our Project

Together, we can ensure that the incredible story of the Cataract House and its heroes receives the recognition it deserves. Thank you for your support and belief in our mission.