Photo courtesy of Willie Alberty.
By Krisha Patel and Lauren Sprague
On March 14, 15, and 16, Manheim Township Performing Arts is presenting the musical Once on This Island, a blend between Romeo and Juliet and Moana. This musical is a “love prevails” type of story with eleven main characters, the lead being Ti Moune, played by Annalise Prentiss (11th grade). The four gods in the musical, Erzulie, goddess of love, Agwe, god of water, Asaka, mother of the earth, and Papa Ge, demon of death, assist Ti Moune on her journey across the island to find Daniel, Ti Moune’s love interest.
Prentiss said that she is excited to see how the audience responds to the show: “This musical contains messages about storytelling and love. Over the past few months, our cast has worked hard on presenting those messages. We hope the audience becomes immersed in the production and leaves the theatre filled with a sense of hope and community.” Once on This Island presents Ti Moune as both a child and a young adult. Ti Moune is a “commanding role,” said Prentiss, “because she has to have a clear balance between her childlike nature and her maturity, which isn’t always easy to portray.” Prentiss became involved with the musical because she has always had an interest in music and theatre. After being introduced to community theatre at an early age, she started taking dance and voice lessons. Also, her family has an annual tradition of watching the high school’s spring musical, which is why she is delighted to be able to perform on the stage that she always saw as a child. She believes that the musical has helped her grow as a performer and is glad that she auditioned.
Yasmin Nicholas is a junior playing the role of Asaka, mother of Earth, who helps guide Ti Moune to her love interest, Daniel. Nicholas said that she is very enthusiastic to play the role of Asaka. “I’m most excited about how unique our show is, stylistically speaking,” she added. The music, costumes, dances, and sets of this musical are unusual compared to previous shows that MTPA has performed in recent years. Nicholas is also looking forward to MTPA’s tradition of reciting the “Major General” bit from the Pirates of Penzance. Every night before the show, the cast members repeat the tongue-twister-like song over and over again at faster speeds, as a way to get energized for the production. It has been a tradition for years and students battle Mrs.Wagner about who can say the words fastest. Nicholas is involved in the musical because her friend, Grant Dombach (12th grade), convinced her to audition during her freshman year. Since then, she has fallen in love with MTPA and theatre and has performed in every show.
A member of the ensemble, also known as the storytellers, is senior Natalie Miller. The show begins with a group of people telling the story of Ti Moune to a young girl. The cast acts out Ti Moune’s story with song and dance, which brings it to life. Miller explained that Baird Thompson (12th grade) plays Papa Ge, but at some points reverts back to being a storyteller to the young girl. One of Miller’s favorite parts of Once on This Island is the music, as she said, “it reminds me of Moana, like it’s very lighthearted.” If you’re a fan of the popular Disney movie, you might just want to consider attending this musical. Miller also likes the casting for this musical: “I think everybody really fits their character very well,” she stated. As seen in the play preview, almost the entire cast is on stage contributing to the magic of the show for the majority of the time. Miller appreciates this element of the show because it gives the production “a big sense of community,” which is one of the reasons MTPA chose this feel-good musical. Natalie says, “It’s just a really good story of everybody coming together and being a community and a family and telling a story to a little girl.”
Miller joined the MTPA community last year by auditioning for 12 Angry Jurors and earning the role of Juror Number Ten. Since then she was involved in Cinderella and Almost Maine. Being involved with this program has brought her more confidence and allowed her to understand the importance of trusting the director. Miller’s favorite memory from Once on This Island rehearsals is the dance boot camp that consisted of a long day of putting together the first musical number. “We just kind of spent the whole day throwing out ideas and trying out different moves and it was a lot of fun.”
Miller said performing this play is “really humbling, I think, to get reactions from the audience.” She explained how a mom began to cry after seeing the parents preview earlier this week. “It makes me feel really proud of us, that we put in all this work and people are really feeling things out of that.”