To celebrate Black History month, Center Stage Productions, a local theater group, presented “Once on this Island” Feb. 17-19 at the Arkansas State University Pavilion featuring a full cast of color.
“Once on this Island” is a Broadway musical based on the novel “My Love, My Love” by Rosa Guy written in 1985. Its script and lyrics were written by Lynn Ahrens with music by Stephen Flaherty.
The musical is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid,” centering around a peasant girl named Ti Moune, in 19th century French Antilles, who falls in love with a wealthy boy named Daniel and makes a deal with the gods to save his life even though their love is forbidden.
Though based on a fairy tale, ‘Once on This Island’ deals with harder topics such as colorism and class barriers. The play begs a deeper question “does love conquer death?”
Center Stage’s adaptation was directed and choreographed by A-State alumni Quinton Sanders, a 22-year-old who graduated this past August with a major in marketing and a minor in theater.
The musical featured 21 songs that were full of dancing and strong voices that harmonized well to create a cohesive show that held your attention from start to finish.
The intimacy of the pavilion, as well as the lighting technique and background sounds used also added to the creation of a space that felt like a full experience.
Sanders said the cast did a shorter process of rehearsals starting in early January, rehearsing three days a week.
“The cast had to come in very prepared,” Sanders said.
Jharel Jerez, the 25-year-old who played Daniel, said he spent time recording qualities that he thought his character would have in his actions and mannerisms, including qualities that a prince would convey and try to mimic them.
He said he shares some qualities with Daniel like being indecisive, easily distracted and young at heart, but it was “weird to play him” because the qualities he doesn’t share with him he would never want to possess. Jerez said the role was very different for him, but one he said he needed to learn how to play.
Kylah Hood, a 20-year-old theater major, played the lead role of Ti Moune. Her preparation for the play included researching what the typical life for a peasant in Haiti was during the 19th century and looking into the story of “The Little Mermaid,” as well as colorism, something she said she experiences daily.
Hood had a natural grace about her that was captivating, coupled with a powerhouse voice she had all eyes on her every time she took the stage.
“During the show I have this moment where I go back and forth from being stressed to really, really, really into the character to where I almost think it’s kind of real,” she said. “The lights and not being able to see the audience works because I’m like ‘No one is watching me right now, I’m really in this.’”
The last song “Why We Tell the Story” brings the show to a close and answers the question of why is this play important in relation to Black history. Life, pain, love, grief, hope, faith, is why we tell the story.
Sanders said the play tells “the story about lives,” to show that we have compassion and empathy for others and we’re here to just love and tell our stories.
“It’s very important to tell this story, especially in a town like Jonesboro where we have a very populated area of closed minded people,” Sanders said. “Center Stage productions is a company where we do shows that make people think, not only entertain them. We want to start the conversation.”
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