ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at Village Playbox: Captivating Music, Poignant Story

by Patricia Bradford

There is an island, where rivers run deep, where the sea, sparkling in the sun, gives it the name Jewel of the Antilles…” And you can find that jewel at the Village Playbox of Haddon Heights, where their production of the mystical musical, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, opens on May 6.

Based on Rosa Guy’s novel My Love, My Love, which was in turn inspired by the fairy tale The Little Mermaid, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND tells the story of star-crossed lovers. It opens on a tropical island on the night of a fierce storm. In an attempt to distract and comfort a terrified child, a group of island peasants assume the roles of storytellers, gods, and other characters as they enact the tale of Ti Moune, a legendary figure in a culture rich with stories about their history and the gods who rule the island. Ti Moune longs for a world she cannot have, the world of a rich boy named Daniel. The gods intervene and set in motion a series of events that will lead Ti Moune to what she wants, but not without consequence. Inherent in this simple story within a story are the serious themes of fate, love, class discrimination, prejudice, and loss and redemption. Once on This Island also explores the tradition of storytelling, not only as entertainment, but as a means of passing down history, values, and insight from one generation to the next.

With music, books and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns (who also collaborated on Seussical, Ragtime, and My Favorite Year), ONCE ON THIS ISLAND premiered on Broadway in 1990 was nominated for eight Tony Awards.

Leading the talented, experienced cast is Julianna Banfe in the title role. The gods are portrayed by Jesica Counts, Desiree Colangelo, Joe Fillari, and Steven Ginn. Appearing as Ti Moune’s parents are Jenni Maienza and Jay Burton. Jenn Evans plays the part of Andrea Devereaux. Assuming the parts of the Storytellers are Chuck Maienza, Caitlin Riccardi, Jan Johnston, Kristin Bryan, Blaine Bryan, Annatasha Kong, and Marti Palmieri.

Nine cast members have appeared in previous productions of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. For them, this is more than a chance to perform; it is a welcome return to the poignant story and captivating music of this Caribbean-influenced folk tale. The production team shares this sentiment. Shaun Holland (musical director), Anita Rowland (director), and Jan Johnston (assistant director) collaborated on several musicals at Highland Regional High School, including ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. When they were invited to direct at the Playbox this season, they didn’t hesitate to accept.

In addition to the talented lead singers, the cast features six children, most of them veterans of the Village Playbox’s Acting for Kids class and the Rising Stars Summer Camp. Integrating young performers into an adult cast can be challenging, but these children come to the production with an understanding of theater fundamentals, stage experience, and a love of performance. They are thrilled to be included in a mainstage production.

The Village Playbox of Haddon Heights will present the mystical musical, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, May 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, and 21 (8:00 p.m. curtain) and May 8 and 15 (3:00 p.m. matinee) at the First Presbyterian Church, located on Green Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. Discount tickets are available online at www.villageplaybox.org or they may be purchased at the door. Check the website for a special Mother’s Day ticket offer.

The Village Playbox is handicap accessible. Contact the Playbox at info@villageplaybox.com or call 856-534-6960 if you have any questions.

Theater/Organization The Village Playbox
Theater/Organization Website: http://www.villageplaybox.org

Theater/Organization Address: 28 Seventh Avenue Haddon Heights, New Jersey 08035 (Map It)
Theater/Organization Phone: (856) 534-6960

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