Once on This Island embraces life and culture in lively performance

Rider’s production of “Once on this Island” provided audiences with an emotional and culturally-driven performance. With themes of love and loss emulated through Caribbean music and dance. (Above left) Abeba Isaac and Devon Wheeler deliver a lively performance as Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian, the gods who adopt Ti Moune, played by Milika Griffiths (bottom left).

By Kimberly Ortiz

A colorful musical about choosing love over one’s self, “Once on This Island,” ran at the Yvonne Theater from April 5 to 9.

Directed by acting professor Trent Blanton, the musical followed Ti Moune on a journey to find herself while embracing the cultures of Haiti and the Caribbean, where the musical takes place.

With fun and energetic choreography by Rider musical theater alumna Abbey Sierakowski, the cast of 11 members brought its moves and talented voices to the stage each night.

The show began by introducing a young Ti Moune played by Micah Bowser, a Princeton Junior School student. She is scared, and in the middle of a thunderstorm, where she is soon comforted by village storytellers. The villagers wear bright and detailed costumes that represent each character. With an easy and fast transition into the opening number, “We Dance,” the show was off to an exciting start that truly had a sense of inclusiveness and connection between the actors and the audience.

Ti Moune is adopted by the caring and nurturing gods Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian, played by sophomore musical theater major Abeba Isaac and senior musical theater major Devon Wheeler, respectively. She grows up to find her purpose in life by telling the gods and storytellers her plan through the powerful anthem “Waiting for Life.”

What really brought Ti Moune and her big heart to life was the actress who played her, senior musical theater major Milika Griffiths. Her passionate performance was a joy to watch onstage, not only because of her strong and powerful voice, but because of the way she presented herself as an actress, and the ability to embrace the ups and downs experienced by her character. Her connection to the other actors in the show proved that the cast and characters they played were all on the same level throughout the performance.

As Ti Moune begins and continues through her journey, she saves a boy’s life. His life and story then become a major part of her own. Played by senior musical theater major Lephate Cunningham III, Daniel begins to fall in love with Ti Moune for her driving personality and love of life. While Cunningham’s performance was strong and overall well-performed, the character of Daniel is one that seems like he should not be trusted. Ultimately, while Daniel does seem to love Ti Moune, in the end he chooses to marry Andrea, played by junior musical theater major Essence Williams, whom his parents have chosen for him.

Through the musical performances of “Ti Moune’s Dance,” “Andrea’s Sequence,” “Promises/Forever Yours- Reprise” and the “Wedding Sequence,” Ti Moune, who waits for Daniel to possibly change his mind for her, eventually decides that it is not really worth it to wait for him and instead focuses on living her life, until sadly, she drowns.

While there are these sad moment in the plot, there comes a happier one. The loving goddess that cared for Ti Moune, Asaka, played by sophomore musical theater major Terrie Lynn Goins, allows for Ti Moune’s legacy to live on by transforming her into a tree that will represent a celebration of life, which was seen as the overall concept of the musical.

The musical ended in a large celebratory way that would represent love, loss and life, to both the characters and the audience, with the finale number of “Why We Tell the Story.” The title was fitting because the story of family, love and learning about one’s self was truly told, and it was told in a way unlike any other.


Originally printed in the 4/12/17 edition. 

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