“Once On This Island,” a highly original and theatrical Caribbean adaptation of a classic fairy tale will conclude Clarion University’s Summer Musical Theatre Festival with performances July 24-26 at 8 p.m. in Marwick-Boyd Little Theatre.
Tickets for the Clarion performances are $12 for adults, $9 for children, and $6 for Clarion University students with valid identification cards. Call (814) 393-2787 for tickets.
Additional performances are July 31-Aug. 2 and Aug. 6-9 at the Sawmill Theatre, Cook Forest. For information on Sawmill tickets call (814) 927-6655.
“Once On This Island,” book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty, is based on “My Love, My Love,” by Rosa Guy. Guy’s work originates from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid.” The play may be too intense for the very young.
“I’ve wanted to do this play for a long time,” said Robert Levy, chair of the theatre department and director of the play. “I’ve loved it since I first heard it performed. We finally have the diverse acting pool we need to do this production.”
The story is told by a number of storytellers attempting to keep a little girl distracted during a tropical storm. They tell her the story of a peasant girl who rescues, nurses, and falls in love with Daniel, an aristocrat from a wealthy family. When Daniel returns to his people, the gods who rule the island guide the peasant girl on a quest to test the strength of her love against the powerful forces of prejudice, hatred, and death.
“Guy is a Trinidad born author, who used her story to deal with the divisions between two societies, peasant and rich, on the same French, Caribbean island,” said Levy. “The Voudon Sprits help the societies to come together.”
This was the first big breakthrough play for Ahrens and Flaherty, who also wrote “SEUSSICAL, The Musical,” performed earlier this summer as part of Clarion University’s Summer Musical Theatre Festival. They read the play after finding Guy’s book in a used bookstore and decided it was good material for a musical. An initially skeptical Guy gave permission to proceed after hearing their initial songs. The play went on to be nominated for a Tony Award as best musical and won the British equivalent of the award, the Lawrence Olivier Award.
“This play is unique musically,” said Levy. “It is heavy on Caribbean influences of calypso and sambas. The music serves the play very well, because the play includes everything from comedy, pathos, romance, and heartbreak, to celebration. The dancing is heavily influenced by Afro-Caribbean, and Haitian culture.”
The same uniqueness has created challenges for the actors.
“Vocally, this is a very demanding show,” said Levy. “The cast has jumped in with both feet and the rehearsals are a celebration of this music. They have also had to work hard to create a world that is outside of their own world. They have had to research Caribbean culture and the societal schisms on a tiny island.”
Cassandra Banaszek, who will perform as Mama Euralie is using the play as her graduation project. Banaszek, a senior theater major, is a granddaughter of Henry Banaszek of Wilkes-Barre and is a graduate of James M. Coughlin High School.
The rest of the cast includes:
Sofia Barboza as Little Ti Moune. Barboza is a daughter of Dr. Gustavo Barboza and Dr. Sandra Trejos of Clarion.
Estaban Brown as Tonton Julian. Brown, a junior theatre major from New Castle is a graduate of New Castle High School.
Shernee Bellamy as Ti Moune. Bellamy, a junior theatre major, is a daughter of Jessica Bellamy of Erie and is a graduate of Central High School.
Connor Mrozowski as Daniel Beauxhomme. Mrozowski, a sophomore theatre major, is a son of John Mrozowski of Pittsburgh and is a graduate of Winchester Thurston High School.
Jeffery Allen as Armand. Allen, a junior theater major, is a son of Mike and Joyce Allen of Greenville and is a graduate of Greenville High School.
Erin Thompson as Andrea. Thompson, a sophomore elementary education and theatre major, is a daughter of Steve and Maureen Thompson of Canonsburg and is a graduate of Canon-McMillan High School.
Ron Johnson as Papa Ge, Demon of Death. Johnson, a junior theatre major, is a son of Judith Gibson of McKees Rocks and is a graduate of Sto-Rox High School.
Whitney Hayes as Asaka, Goddess of the Earth. Hayes, a sophomore elementary education major, is a daughter of Jeff Hayes of Bethel Park and is a graduate of Bethel Park High School.
Lauren Sarazen as Erzulie, Goddess of Love. Sarazen, a junior secondary education/English major, is a daughter of Noreen Sarazen of Pittsburgh and is a graduate of North Hills High School.
Ryan Jackson as Agwe, God of Water. Jackson, a junior theater major, is a son of Lisa Jackson of Ambridge and is a graduate of Moon High School.
Working on the technical end of the production are:
Mandie Lange, choreography. Lange, a May 2008 Clarion University graduate with a degree in liberal studies, is a daughter of Carla Campbell of North Apollo and a graduate of Apollo-Ridge High School.
Katherine Leary, assistant choreographer. Leary, a sophomore at Penn State University, is a daughter of Dr. Ralph and Nancy Leary of Clarion and is a graduate of Clarion High School.
Samuel G. Levy, stage manager. Levy, a sophomore theatre major, is a son of Robert Levy of Shippenville and is a graduate of Clarion High School.
Elizabeth Hultz, assistant stage manager. Hultz, a freshman theatre major, is a daughter of Joe and Ellen Hultz of Carnegie and is a graduate of Carlynton High School.
Dennis Davenport, musical director. Davenport, guest faculty, is from the department of music, Otterbein College, Westerville Ohio.
Bill Nelson, assistant musical director and conductor. Nelson, a senior music education major, a son of Ric and Pat Nelson of Rural Valley and is a graduate of West Shamokin High School.
Robert Hoover of the theatre staff, scenic design.
Julie Finland-Powell of the theater faculty, costume design.
Audrina Hill, lighting design. Hill, a sophomore theatre major, is a daughter of Mary Zaczyk of Yatesboro and is a graduate of West Shamokin High School.
The 2008-09 Clarion University Theatre season will include: “43 Days About 43 Presidents,” Oct. 8-12; Second Series production, Oct. 24-25; “A Midsummer Nights Dream,” Nov. 18-22; Dance Concert ’08, Dec. 4-5; and in 2009 – “Big River,” Feb. 18-21; Play in a Day, March 13-14; Second Series production, March 20-21; and “Psycho Beach Party,” April 14-18.