by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
It is becoming a tradition that Players by the Sea School of the Arts, under the guidance of its Director of Education Barbara Colaciello, presents a summer musical for one weekend in June or July. Last year it was an exciting “Xanadu,” and this year an equally exciting “Once on this Island.” So that the participating students ranging from 8 to 18 can go on to other summer experiences, the play is presented for only two performances; the 2012 dates were June 29 and 30.
This musical by the team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (of “Ragtime” fame), debuted in 1990 on Broadway to good reviews and multiple Tony nominations. It is based on Trinidad native Rosa Guy’s book “My Love, My Love,” a Caribbean version of “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen. The setting is an unnamed French Antilles Island, which, as Director Erik DeCicco pointed out in his director’s notes, is Haiti.
Since Players by the Sea has no curtain, upon taking their seats, the audience was able to see the unique set for this production. Set Designers Brian Grant, Katina Higgins, Barbara Sarvis and Mr. DeCicco did a marvelous bit of reworking the set from the recently closed “The Trojan Women,” and we were immersed in an island atmosphere. The set included stone steps and platforms, house exteriors in warm colors, with many green vines and palm trees.
While we are on the production values, kudos go to the lighting design team of Colleen Doherty and Katie Berry for the excellent storm and lightning effects. The sound by Trip Wiggins was so realistic the Dual Critics actually though it was raining fiercely outside and that tropical storm Debby had returned. Completing the visuals were the costumes by Elyn Wolfe. She dresses the peasants in ragged clothes in nondescript colors, while deities appear in flowing gowns and artistocrats and their children wear the bright colors typical of tropical settings.
This somewhat dark fairy tale story is the myth of the orphan Ti Moune, who is adopted by a peasant farm couple, Mama Euralie(Alaina George) and Tonton Julian (Ian Ramos). In the early scenes second grader Tori Alexander played Little Ti Moune with gusto.
Time passes and the little girl grows up into a lovely young lady (Emily Suarez). Ti Moune finds a young aristocratic man Daniel (Nick Dondero) on the road, injured after a car accident. As she prays to the Gods, Ti Moune tenderly nurses him back to health. He leaves to return to the city and his family, but Ti Moune has fallen in love with him and tells her parents she will travel to the city and tell him of her love.
Ah, but it is a forbidden love due to class differences, and Daniel marries his fiancée Andrea (Gena Heylock) who comes from an aristocratic French family. Ti Moune’s hopes are shattered when she encounters Daniel after the wedding. A transformation dictated by the Gods awaits her.
The Gods play an important part in this story and frequently express their opinions in song. They were portrayed by Isabel Dondero as Aska, Goddess of Earth, Anna Wheeler as Erzulie Goddess of Love, and Lauren Bell and Anna Villena as the twin aspects of Agwe, Goddess of Water. Brian Healy is Papa Ge, the fearsome Demon of Death. Healy was the most experienced actor in the show with several musicals on his resume including a fine performance as Hero in Limelight’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum.” He will be in Player’s “Reefer Madness” later in July, and then he is off to DePaul University to study theatre.
Others in featured roles included Gavin Alexander as Daniel’s son. Christian Mercado played Daniel’s father, with Daniel Wiggins as Armand and Sarah Grant as the mother of Ti Moune .
The Storytellers, very important members of the cast, were on and off the stage throughout, dancing or adding narrative to the story. The energetic and enthusiastic ensemble included Kayla Alexander, Madeleine Harold, Kendal Berry, Sammie Losee, Meghan Porterfield, Allie Rohrer, Hayley Stoddard, Mary Tilman and Daniel Wiggins. This marvelous group handled Choreographer Daniel Prill’s exciting and demanding numbers with aplomb.
The Band was conducted by the amazing Aaron Marshall, who was also the musical director and played second keyboard. Completing the trio of musicians were Bryan Miano and Phil Gillette. The musicians were constantly playing since there was very little dialogue and nineteen songs. In the leading role, Emily Suarez sang several difficult numbers. Ms. Saurez who has done three shows at Players will continue her singing this fall at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.
Director Erik DeCicco and Assistant Director Lana Mullins did a terrific job of getting this musical on stage in just three short weeks, whereas most musicals take six to eight weeks to launch. Katie Berry, one of the busiest of the technical theatre people in Jacksonville, kept things rolling smoothly as Stage Manager.
We want to thank Barbara Colaciello and her staff at Players School of the Arts for training and preparing the next generation of theatre performers in this city. The Dual Critics also thank The Haskell Company for sponsoring this show, which allowed Players to keep the production values high and the ticket prices at a very reasonable ten dollars. Make a note to yourself to make sure to see next year’s production.
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM