Tri-State Theater

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Saturday, March 07, 2015

"Once on This Island, Jr."

   In the interests of fairness, I must admit that I'm on the board of First Stage Theatre Company, so I can't really write an objective review of Once on This Island, Jr. - but here are some thoughts I'd like to share about the production.

   I am so proud of these young performers!

   I refer to Once on This Island, Jr. as "the show that never ends" because it's been rehearsing since last summer.

   The reason for the long rehearsal schedule is because this isn't just a show - it's a show and an event and an activity and an experience of a lifetime for the performers involved.

   The auditions were held in August 2014, then the cast of about 25 kids rehearsed part-time and took part in numerous fundraisers to be able to take the entire cast to Atlanta for the annual Music Theatre International Junior Theatre Festival, where they joined 4,000 other kids from around the country. They performed a 15-minute segment of the show for professional judges, took part in workshops and saw professional Broadway stars live on stage!

   It was a terrific experience for them - and then they came back and rehearsed the full show, which wraps up this weekend at the Renaissance Theatre Ballroom at 900 8th Street (the old Huntington High School).

   I got to see the full show last weekend, and while I'm prejudiced, I have to say - I loved it! It's a fast, often breezy (but also serious and touching) story of a young island girl, Ti Moune (Brooklyn Nelson) who is rescued from a flood by a kindly couple (Katie Fulks and Nick Wood). She often wonders why she was saved by the spirits of the island (each of which is wonderfully realized by four performers - Olivia Fosson, Teddy Haddox, Armaan Karimpour and Elysse Samassekou).

     As Ti Moune grows into a lovely young woman (played by the wonderful Samantha Young), she discovers the reason - a young man (Samuel Collins) is injured in an accident, and she pledges her life to saving his. But the gods are intrigued - can love be greater than death? And can Ti Moune overcome the culture gap that dictates that her people and his must be separated?

   That's the story that plays out in island songs and creative dances - what an entertaining production it is! The cast is loaded with talented young performers, decked out in colorful costumes, with a cleverly-designed three-level set.

   Kudos to the tech crew and the directing team - director Amy Browning, music director Chris Bowling, choreographer Sarah Hayes, assistant director / technical director Ashleigh Bailey-Bannon, and producer Jeanette Bailey - for their work bringing this touching show to life, and making this opportunity available to this cast!

   You just have two chances left to catch the show - it runs Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. - it's highly recommended!

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