Upper Darby High School Tells the Story

While this review might be coming a little late, I knew it needed to be mentioned on my blog. Last saturday night, I attended Upper Darby High School’s production of Once On This Island. Having attended and performed in Upper Darby’s shows when I attended the school, I knew the quality of productions Upper Darby always puts on. And this year, Once On This Island was no exception.

Once On This Island is a one act musical based off of the Rosa Guy novel My Love, My Love. The show features a book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. They are the famous duo for such shows as Seussical and Ragtime. The musical originally opened Off-Broadway and then transfered to Broadway in 1990. It was perceived well and was nominated for 8 Tony Awards including Best New Musical. The musical closed after 469 performances and 19 previews. The original Broadway cast reunited in 2002 for a concert version of the show. The musical tells the story of a small orphan girl (TiMoune) who is a peasant from an island tribe. She falls in love with a rich man (Daniel) after a car accident that takes place during a terrible storm. The story is narrated and pushed along by the 4 gods who take TiMoune on the journey of her lifetime and eventually prove that love can withstand the greatest of dangers and longest of storms including death.

Click Here to View a Video Created for Once On This Island

From the opening number “We Dance” to the closing “Why We Tell The Story”, Upper Darby executed Once On This Island with dedication and passion. The cast of about 80 brought the island to life whether they singing the island chants or dancing the tribal dances. When the entire cast was on stage at times, you just had to look around and say “Wow”. The fact of getting that many high school kids to sing the right tunes, throw in some harmonies and execute the dancing the way they did is not only an ode to those who worked on this show, but to Upper Darby for its continuing dedication and passion for the arts and how it executes that.

Camille Young, who played TiMoune, from the beginning captured her audience by telling the story of a girl who falls in love and then must fight for it. Her vocals delivered and were impressive considering the maturity of the score and voice needed for the part of TiMoune who performs such show stopping numbers as “Waiting for Life”. Matt Lanteri, who plays Daniel, was a pleasure to watch as he was put into the awkward situation of falling in love and being told who to love. Lanteri’s bitterness to the love situation with Young only helped the audience feel more for the young girl.

The 4 Gods (Not Production Photo)

When it comes to the 4 gods who help tell and create the story before your eyes, just when you thought you had seen a ridiculous amount of talent, another god stepped in to take over the story. Eyakeno Ekpo, who plays Agwe ; god of water, is a joy to watch and sends chills down your spine as he performs. When it came to his number “Rain”, if the chill of the storm being created around you wasn’t enough, Ekpo’s vocals gave the song a chilling effect that would last for the rest of the show. Mackenzie Ellis, who plays Erzulie; goddess of love, is a joy to watch every moment she is on stage. Her song “The Human heart” was absolutely beautiful as she helped young TiMoune is her journey of love. Chantel Cumberbatch, who plays Asaka; mother of the earth, is absolutely ridiculous in all the right ways. Her number “Mama Will Provide” was so much fun as she brought to life the island that surrounded us. Her vocals were also insane including one point which left me wondering if Upper Darby was playing the original Broadway recording because the vocals were that impressive and alike. And if that wasn’t enough for you, ending it all was Dominique Travis, who plays Papa Ge; god of death, is not only spooky but also haunting the entire show. Appearing sometimes out of the darkness, he truly captured the character within as he challenged TiMoune to prove death was more powerful then love. His vocals on such songs as “Forever Yours” were insane as he executed songs and left you wondering how somebody at an age like that could provide such vocals.

It was also a joy to watch Christine Elizabeth and Joe Paparo as the parents of young TiMoune. They experience their own emotional journey as TiMoune nurses daniel back to health, watches he heart break after he is taken away and then as she decides to eventually leave her family in search for him. As parents should be, Elizabeth and Paparo were there for Young every step of the journey. Their return at the end of the production due to the death of TiMoune is not only breathtaking but heart wrenching as they sob in the name of their fallen daughter.

When it came to the technical aspects of Upper Darby’s production, they were just as fun and talented as the cast was. The lighting changes were so good it seemed as though the light change was just meant to happen. They created illusions making you feel as though you were on a different part of the island even though you were just on the opposite side of the stage. The stage, which was 2 levels and then a third one for the gods, was simple but fantastic in that sense. Allowing the audience to create the island themselves using the unit set provided was a joy. I found myself imagining different things the entire show as to what certain scenes would look like. The sound was also fantastic even after Camille’s mic had fallen off and was dangling from her towards the end of the show. The technical aspects delivered in every sense and greatly helped Upper Darby High School’s already talented cast.

I can’t tell you to go see this fabulous production since I had seen it on closing night but if you missed this show, you missed quite an experience. Upper Darby’s dedication to theatre and the arts was displayed in their production of Once On This Island. Upper Darby truly displayed the meaning behind the closing number of the show as they truly told the story.

Upper Darby Summer Stage's Once Once This Island Jr - Summer 2009

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