Play to feature 22 youth in ‘Once On This Island’ Thursday through Sunday

The cast of "Once On This Island".
The cast of “Once On This Island”.

by Richard Lamb–Advance Editor
Theatergoers will have the opportunity to travel to the French Antilles in the Caribbean Sea for a musical tale spun on a tropical island.
“Once On This Island, Jr.” a musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty premiered on Broadway in 1990 closing after 469 performances. The Summer Youth Theatre production is directed by Heather Nordenbrock featuring a cast of 22 youth.
“It is a story about storytelling. It is based on a book, which was based loosely on ‘The Little Mermaid,’ but they use social differences as opposed to land versus sea. There are a lot of themes of growing up and gaining independence and themes of the power of love over just about everything and forgiveness,” Nordenbrock said.
The play features Chloe Schultz as the peasant girl Ti Moune and Hannah Meharg as a younger Ti Moune, the lead character in the play. The play begins with Ti Moune as a little girl who quickly grows up and wants her independence. She falls in love with a wealthy boy from the other side of the island played by Colby Nordenbrock.
They are the subject of four gods, the god or goddesses of death, love, earth and water. The goddesses are played by Jasmine Ramus, Lily Nordenbrock, Lexia Haske and Sophia Schiepek.
“They kind of puppet the characters into doing what they want them to do. They decide to have a bet whether love or death is more powerful; so they create circumstances to set up that situation,” the director said.
Emmalyn Riddle and Jonah Riddle play Ti Moune’s adoptive parents and Izabelle Loughran plays Andrea, another resident on the island.
The play takes the audience on a journey with Ti Moune as she grows up and is puppeted by the goddesses.
“It is Caribbean-style music and pretty much the entire show is music. It is catchy. It is fun. It is high energy. It is like singing and dancing the whole time,” director Nordenbrock said. “But behind it all is a pretty meaty story. You don’t think of kids doing these intense stories but there is really a lot of intense emotion going on, too.”
Denise Perrault is assistant director while Karl W. Heidemann is technical director. Bob Starnes IV is the CD operator cueing up the music while Brittany VanderWall is running lights and Lucy DeDecker is sound engineer operating the nine wireless microphones, two stationary microphones and one floor microphone. Ed Perrault is a stagehand and backstage monitor.
Mary Parsons gathered props and Ashley Nowicki is listed as assistant choreographer.
Nordenbrock is not only the director and chief choreographer, but is using the experience towards her advancement in higher education.
“It is the culminating project, my thesis project for my master of Fine Arts degree, which is like a Ph.D (doctorate) program. So in addition to just directing a play, we had to do improvisational workshops and actually came up with additional script material that is the words from the kids so that the kids wrote part of the script. It is their exact words. I just organized it from all these workshops that we did,” Nordenbrock said.
The play opens tonight (Thursday) at 7:30 p.m. and runs Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and one more time Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Rogers City Theater.