By Lacey Schauwecker
As spring quarter progresses, students are increasingly ready to whiz off on their planned summer vacations. Visions of Hawaii, Mexico and other tropical destinations linger in antsy minds, often providing incentive for those struggling to persevere through these last trying weeks.
However, if these anticipatory mirages are not enough, the restless can take an earlier getaway to the Caribbean via the theater department’s upcoming production, “Once On This Island.”
With a simple stage consisting of painted flowers and an ever-present five-piece percussion band, this play certainly provides elements characteristic of a relaxing getaway.
However, “Once On This Island” is not intended to be a full escape from reality.
This production, though entertaining, offers a serious look at modern issues including class distinction, racism and social injustice.
“Once On This Island” is a Tony Award-winning musical based on Lynn Ahrens’ book of the same name, adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.”
Like Ariel, the play’s main character takes a geographical and metaphorical journey out of love for a man of different social status.
Ti Moune, a poor peasant girl, rescues upper-class Daniel from a car crash and cares for his serious injuries.
“It’s a metaphor for human beings taking their life journey,” said director Mark Monday. “Ti Moune takes her journey to find Daniel and to continue to heal him, and, in doing so, she falls in love. We all have to take steps to see what’s around the next bend.”
Though Ti Moune’s walk through forbidden love appears to be an individual effort, “Once On This Island” includes 40 actors who will present her story through song, dance and drama.
“You have to think of it as a play within a play. Everyone in it is a storyteller, and the entire cast is telling the story to the audience. They’re all telling the story of Ti Moune and the island,” said Monday.
The theme of storytelling in “Once On This Island” is especially emphasized in the song “We Tell the Story.” As one lyric states, “For out of what we live and we believe, our lives become the stories that we weave.”
Though the music is scored by the acclaimed Broadway composer Stephen Flaherty, Monday said “Once On This Island” is not a standard musical like “Guys and Dolls” or “Kiss Me Kate.”
“It’s not one of those musicals where you walk out singing because it’s mostly ensemble, and it’s all Caribbean-based music,” he said.
The fact that “Once On This Island” may not be a sing-along certainly does not diminish its grandeur.
“We began the planning over a year ago,” Monday said. “Then, we cast the play in the winter of this year, and rehearsals began the very first day back from spring break.”
With four-hour practices six days a week, this cast has certainly put in enough effort to ensure an impressive production.
Though “Once On This Island” may seem like an enormous amount of work, it is the theater department’s last production of the year, and therefore the biggest.
“A big show at the end of the year makes a lot of sense because we go out feeling like we accomplished something really huge. Come see it, and you’ll see why we work so hard,” said Monday.
Aside from all the theatrical elements, the mere storyline of “Once On This Island” seems to be reason enough to attend.
Through Ti Moune, the play presents its audience with an inspiring role model — someone who disregards social dichotomies, valuing love more than her own well-being.
“In the end, Ti Moune is hope for us all, hope for class distinction and racism, because her journey brings others closer together,” Monday said. “Many musicals are meant to be just pure entertainment. This is certainly entertaining — no question about it — but it really has a strong theme of social justice.”
Whether attending “Once On This Island” for the storyline, the song and dance, or as a mere break from end-of-the-year stress, the production promises to be an enlightening trip to Ti Moune’s Caribbean world.
Contact Lacey Schauwecker at (408) 551-1918 or email@example.com.