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The Caribbean Musical Retelling of The Little Mermaid, "Once On This Island," Is Coming To South Jersey


By Carolyn M. Brown, JerseyArts.com

originally published: 02/08/2024

The Caribbean Musical Retelling of The Little Mermaid, "Once On This Island," Is Coming To South Jersey

A restaging of the Caribbean-infused musical “Once On This Island” is coming to the Levoy Theatre in Millville, New Jersey, running for four performances from February 9th through February 11th. Filled with immersive storytelling, the show is directed by Domonic Barnes and choreographed by Olivia Cruz. Conducting a live band is music director Bryan Broughton.

“Once On This Island” features a Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens with Music by Stephen Flaherty. It is based on the 1985 novel “My Love, My Love” or “The Peasant Girl” by Rosa Guy, whose fable has been characterized as a Caribbean-set retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale “The Little Mermaid.

The Caribbean Musical Retelling of The Little Mermaid, "Once On This Island," Is Coming To South Jersey

In the musical, Ti Moune, a peasant girl, rescues a wealthy boy from the other side of the island, Daniel, with whom she falls in love. Unbeknownst to Ti Moune, the pompous gods who preside over the island make a bet with one another over which is stronger, love or death, the stakes being Ti Moune’s life. When she pursues Daniel, who has returned to his people, Ti Moune is shunned because of her lowly status. Her determination and capacity to love, though, is not enough to win Daniel’s heart, and Ti Moune pays the ultimate price. But the gods turn Ti Moune into a tree that grows so strong and so tall, that it breaks the wall that separates the societies and ultimately unites them.

“'Once On This Island' presents the diametrically opposite picture of how evil, cruel, and divisive people can be, and yet how good, supportive and loving they have the potential to become, and how one small girl can make all the difference,” says producer Sean Pedrick. “This is a message for all of us: How we can create a better world through love and forgiveness that breaks down cultural, racial, religious, economic, and political walls. And that’s why we tell the story,” he adds.

The Levoy Theatre’s revival of the musical is presented through a special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). “Once On This Island” was first staged at Off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons in 1990 before running on Broadway for 469 performances at the Booth Theatre. The Broadway revival of “Once on This Island” opened in 2017 and featured a human and animal cast, with Sparky the Goat becoming a media sensation and appearing on the red carpet with producer Ken Davenport during the 2018 Tony Awards, where the show won Best Revival of a Musical.



 
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There are no live animals on stage during The Levoy Theatre’s production. This show does, however, feature on stage limited general seating. “So, there is seating on both sides of the stage as well as a traditional audience seating, which gives people a closer look, a more intimate experience with the show,” says director Domonic Barnes. “The show has a lot of moments that are really small and tender and the people on stage are going to have a prime seat for those moments.”

Barnes was drawn to direct “Once On This Island” because it is about community, and it harkens back to the root of storytelling. “It's a simple story, but it is told in a modern way. What (audiences) can expect is a show, and a cast, with a lot of heart. It's a story that will connect to people on all levels,” he says.

It has been over 30 years since “Once On This Island” first appeared on Broadway, but Barnes believes the story is still relevant because it tackles issues that are prevalent today such as prejudice, colorism, racism, and classism. Also, “It deals with the struggles we go through as people when we want more in life and the sacrifices we make for love and for family,” he adds.

Barnes is excited to present this story to a community of people who often don’t get to see themselves represented on the main stage. He notes that Levoy’s revival features a cast comprised of people of color, and “being a director of color, it's really exciting to work with people who look like me and to tell a story that is based around things that I can speak to from experience. I have a cast of incredible performers, actors, singers, and dancers from all over.”

The Caribbean Musical Retelling of The Little Mermaid, "Once On This Island," Is Coming To South Jersey

It was in Middle School, while singing in a choir, that Barnes first fell in love with musicals. His choir director encouraged him to pursue musical theater. He decided to give it a try once he attended Bridgeton High School. He appeared in his first musical, which led to him becoming part of the Bridgeton, NJ-based Off Broad Street Players (OBSP) for about 14 years.

Barnes started as a performer with the group but then branched out to being a producer, a stage manager, a scenic designer, and helping in various facets of production. When an opportunity became available for him to direct. “I was like, 'Why not? Let's try something different.' And now I direct. I help people cast shows. It truly is my passion in life because it allows me to express myself, but also to work with different facets of my mind depending on what position I'm playing or what role I'm doing in the show.”

Barnes is now the director of production for the OBSP, which promotes the study of musical theater and plays. In speaking of the importance of bringing live theater to New Jersey communities Barnes says accessibility is key, noting that traveling to New York to see a musical or a play is not accessible for everybody. Bringing a Broadway show to a community theater in New Jersey provides an opportunity to connect, Barnes says, “especially when you're telling a story that people can see themselves in. I think that’s a big piece for me as a director, connecting with other artists, connecting with the community, and building a community that enjoys the arts.”



 
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Millville’s century-old Levoy Theatre is an educational and performing arts center serving Southern New Jersey and surrounding areas. In addition to the maintenance of this world-class venue, Levoy Theatre’s mission is to encourage people of all economic levels to celebrate the rich history of the building, attend a diverse mix of entertainment and educational programs, and create opportunities for cultural enrichment.

At the time of writing, a school day performance of “Once On This Island” will take place on Thursday, February 8, 2024, at 10:00am, with regular performances on Friday, February 9 at 8:00pm; Saturday, February 10 at 2:00pm & 8:00pm; and Sunday, February 11 at 3:00pm.

Levoy Theatre, Millville, NJ | February 9-11, 2024. Click here for ticket information.




About the author: Carolyn M. Brown is an investigative journalist, editor, author, playwright, multimedia content producer and an entrepreneur. She has produced content spanning across a portfolio of platforms, including print, digital media, broadcast, theater arts, and custom events. Her publication credits include Essence, Forbes, Inc., and Diversity Woman magazines. She is a founding board member of the Paterson Performing Arts Development Council, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing together diverse communities through the performing arts and cultural events and to creating pathways for new and established artists.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.




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