Forbidden love takes center stage in ‘authentic’ portrayal of culturally-charged musical

Rider musical theater will present its spring musical “Once on this Island” on April 5 to April 9 in Yvonne Theater. The production, which features an all African-American cast, focuses on themes of love and embracing Haitian and Carribean cultures

By Jason Mount

Haitian gods will meddle on the islands with Rider’s production of “Once on this Island.”

The musical is an adventurous tale, with elements from “The Little Mermaid,”  involving star-crossed lovers, ethereal gods and a Caribbean setting that all culminates into an exciting show. Senior musical theater major Milika Griffiths plays Ti Moune, a peasant girl who falls in love with a richer man.

“She is represented as a pawn in the battle between love and death,” Griffiths said when describing her character. Griffiths is no stranger to Ti Moune, as she played her once before in high school.

“I played this character when I was 15,” she said. “It’s so interesting to see how much my technique has grown and how I can apply it to this character.”

Ti Moune endures many ups and downs in her quest for love.

“One of the biggest challenges when starting the role again was being able to take her emotional arch,” Griffiths said. “She experiences great joy and great sorrow, and it’s a lot to cover in 80 minutes.”

Although sophomore musical theater major Abeba Isaac’s knowledge of the show was minimal before auditioning, it didn’t stop her from getting involved in the production.

“I went through the material, and the story is just so beautiful,” she said.” I wanted the opportunity to tell it. I also have very much respected and admired the work of our director [Professor of Theater Trent Blanton] for a while. I wanted the chance to work with him and be a part of one of his productions.”

Isaac plays Mana Euralie, an old peasant, but was still able to relate to her while preparing for the role.

“She is incredibly strong, and puts her family before herself in every situation,” she said. “I relate to her sense of family and how deeply she cares for others.”

The cast had great times during rehearsal, Griffiths said. “Every rehearsal has been a highlight. I always walk in with a smile on my face because I know it’s going to be a good time.” Griffiths also said that one of her favorite things during rehearsals was seeing the under-classmen members of the cast grow as performers.

Griffiths explained that “Once on this Island” is an important production, as it features an all African- American cast.

“When I first came to this school four years ago, that wasn’t even an option,” she said. “To be able to look on stage and work with people who look like you is a real testament to how this program has grown and continues to grow.”

Isaac stressed the importance of African-American representation in the production and its relation to the subject at hand.

“Far too often, the story is told without the true understanding and the connection to the text,” she said. “The story takes place in the French Antilles — present-day Haiti — and to have a cast completely comprised of people of color makes the story that much more authentic, and the connection we share to the material is so strong.”

Griffiths says she wants audience members to take away an understanding of different cultures and different people from the show, while also questioning what people believe and why they do the things they do. Lastly, Griffiths wants people to think about love.

“I want them to figure out the meaning of love and what lengths they would go to for that love,” she said.

For Isaac, she hopes the Rider community will leave with a sense of empowerment and determination to move forward after experiencing hardships.

“I hope the community walks away knowing that when facing any sort of obstacle or tribulation, love and positivity will always be there to guide you,” she said.

“Once on this Island” will take place in the Yvonne Theater from April 5 to 9. Tickets are $25 for adults and seniors and $20 for non-Rider students and can be purchased from the online box office or by calling 609-896-7775. 

Additional reporting by Samantha Brandbergh.


Printed in the 4/05/17 edition.

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