Dayton Playhouse presents ‘Once On This Island’

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Caribbean-flavored musical about community, culture slated Jan. 13-29.

The Dayton Playhouse continues its 2022-2023 season with lyricist/librettist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty’s 1990 musical “Once On This Island” Jan. 13-29.

Winner of the 2008 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, “Once On This Island” is based on Rosa Guy’s novel “My Love My Love.” The show tells a Caribbean-flavored account of family, race, discrimination, faith, sacrifice, legacy and romance. When daring peasant girl Ti Moune falls in love with wealthy Daniel, worlds collide and fears arise. With assistance from the powerful island gods Agwe (god of Water), Asaka (Mother of the Earth), Erzulie (goddess of Love), and Papa Ge (demon of Death), Ti Moune’s quest to win Daniel’s heart forever changes not only her path but the future of the entire island.

“This show is amazing – it just grabs you,” said director/choreographer Aaron Washington, who also portrays Agwe. “I’m really excited about this production because our cast is going to bring a lot of personality to it. We’re having a great time putting this together and the connections are really going to show. I believe in musicals that (stress) the big songs and dance but the book is important as well.”

The production is special for Washington because he has long considered the Playhouse his artistic home. He lived in Tampa for many years but never forgot about his roots. Last season he appeared in the Playhouse’s “Into the Woods” and is pleased to return in multiple capacities.

“Looking at this stage, I think back to when I was a little kid in ‘Applause’ back in the ‘80s,” he said. “I was wishing one day I could be able to put a director’s hat on and here I am. I’m honored and I’m not going to let that honor go to waste. The Dayton Playhouse is legacy. So many great people have come through here. And for me to come back through the doors and see familiar faces has been beautiful.”

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

William “Kip” Moore was among those whose work bolstered the Playhouse’s legacy. Originally slated to direct “Once On This Island,” Moore passed away April 2, 2022 after battling colon cancer. The cast and creative team continue to keep his memory alive.

“We’ve been keeping Kip’s spirit with us throughout the process and at the end of the show even have a subtle tribute for him,” said assistant director/stage manager Dawn Roth Smith. “I’m pretty sure he’d be very proud of this production. Aaron had some big shoes to step into and he has done an amazing job.”

Inside the characters

The vibrant score, among the best of the Ahrens/Flaherty canon, include “Waiting for Life,” “Mama Will Provide,” “The Human Heart” and “Why We Tell the Story.”

“Forever Yours,” one of the show’s most dramatic sequences, notably finds Ti Moune making a deal with Papa Ge to exchange her life for Daniel’s so he will not die. Jarrod Davis Jr., who portrays Papa Ge, says he enjoys embodying a role that allows him to showcase another side as an actor and singer.

“I trained classically so I’m trying to bring my voice more forward and make it more piercing,” said Davis. “When Papa Ge sings, I want the audience to know he means business. The voices of the other characters are lighter, more heartwarming, so I want to differentiate.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Evette Nicole Williamson, who appeared last season in Sinclair Community College’s production of “She Kills Monsters” and currently studies musical theater at Wright State University, portrays Ti Moune. She feels a kinship to her role, especially in terms of determination and drive.

“I share Ti Moune’s outgoing personality and sense of adventure,” she said.

Williamson also values the significance of being a part of a predominately Black cast for the first time.

“It’s great to be around people who understand me and how I feel and I understand them, which has been a different experience compared to other (shows),” she said. “I feel like I’m around family.”

Representation matters

Minneapolis native Jovone Lewis has been a longtime fan of “Once On This Island” but never thought she’d have the opportunity to be a part of it. She loved seeing the national tour which played the Schuster Center in 2019 and is delighted to finally appear in the show.

“I love the way this story is told through a more diverse lens, a more ethnic lens,” said Lewis, who portrays Erzulie. “It’s such an amazing story and the music is fantastic. The story resonates in very special ways. And I think I’ve been in maybe one or two other shows in my 30 years of (theater) that I’ve had a cast that (looks) like this. It just doesn’t happen (a lot) so I’m very excited.”

Kyla Roniece Hutchins, making her stage debut as Asaka, is equally pleased to be a part of an experience that allows her to embrace her true self.

“I’m glad that my first show is around people who look like me,” said Hutchins. “I get to be unapologetically me. All the masks I have to wear, like when I go to work, I don’t have to have here.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

The cast includes Naman Clark as Daniel Beauxhomme, Alexandria Leigh as Mama Euralie, Antwan Terrell as Ton Ton Julian, Cadence Craycraft as Andrea Deveraux, Hairong Gu as Armand Beauxhomme, Olivia Pennington as Little Ti Moune, and Zenobia Curtis, Amirah Musa and Charmaine Webster as Storytellers.

“This show is about community,” Washington reminded. “Everybody rallies together. I want the audience to leave this show wanting to be a part of this community.”

HOW TO GO

What: “Once On This Island”

Where: Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton

When: Jan. 13-29; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $18-$20

More info: 937-424-8477 or daytonplayhouse.com

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