McLean High School
Lightning streaks across an amethyst sky. A persistent drumbeat echoes the beating of an impassioned heart. Gods, both spiteful and benevolent, rule the lives of mere mortals. And at the center of it all stands one small girl, cursed by death, yet empowered by love. Potomac Senior High School's "Once on this Island" explores the limits of love on an island torn by tradition through the beautiful tragedy of two star-crossed lovers.
With a Tony-winning Broadway revival in 2017, "Once on the Island" is a Haitian-inspired reimagining of the Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid tale. After a devastating storm ravages their home, a group of islanders gather to tell the story of Ti Moune, a young girl who is chosen by the gods to go on a journey that pits love against death. As she tragically falls for a boy from the other end of the island, her spirit and strength inspire those around her, winning even the gods to her side. Memorable music by acclaimed duo Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty captures the vibrant flair of the French Antilles while social castes clash in a critique of classism and a tribute to the power of love.
As brightly optimistic heroine Ti Moune, Sally Deen captured the spirit of the island through her dynamic movements and adventurous nature. With a flourish of her flowing yellow dress and a purple flower in her hair, she embarked on a voyage of self-discovery that transformed her from a naïve and hopeful child into a fiercely protective young woman. Echoes of Ti Moune's spunk were seen in Madelyn Aragon as the Little Girl, who listened attentively to the epic story being told on the stage, eventually taking her rightful place as the storyteller herself.
As wind and water swirled around the theater, the gods manipulated the very souls of the islanders on the ground. From a vicious storm created by Agwe (Annika Deomano) to a lush landscape brought into bloom by Asaka (Ednali Figueroa) in the highly entertaining "Mama Will Provide," each god personified their area of control. The sinister Papa Ge, played by Kevin Patterson, slinked about the stage, a whirling black cape in tow, frightening the audience with crazed laughs and a darkly intimidating glare. But the most powerful was the goddess of love, Erzulie (Mia Aragon). Her benevolent manner, paired with clear, expressive vocals were perfectly suited to "The Human Heart," a touching number that featured the entire cast.
A strong ensemble of Storytellers performed Caribbean-influenced choreography and formed the background to Ti Moune's story. The dancing prowess and commitment of Sydney Pope stood out, especially in her romantic dance duet with Cristian Lugo. As the immersive set became a silhouette against the cyclorama's sunset lighting and the motif of flowers surrounded the actors, the colorful spirit of the island seemed to live on through the spirit of Ti Moune.
Potomac Senior High School's production of "Once on this Island" was a testament to the power of loving in the face of heartbreak and of living despite the threat of impending death. We live to sing, to dance, and to tell our stories for the generations to come.
Freedom High School
Powerful winds soar through the night-sky and lightning comes crashing down from the heavens onto a small, remote island in the Antilles archipelago; where a young girl finds herself overwhelmed with fear. To comfort the girl, the villagers of the island gather around to tell the girl the story of Ti Moune, and thus begins Potomac Senior High School's rendition of "Once on This Island".
Based on Rosa Guy's "My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl", in addition to taking elements from both Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" and William Shakespeare's tragedy "Romeo and Juliet", "Once On This Island" tells the story of Ti Moune, a young peasant who rescues a wealthy boy from the other side of the island, and falls in love with him. Unbeknownst to Ti Moune, the Gods who watch over the island are using her as a mere pawn in a game testing the power of love….and death.
"Once on This Island" first premiered Off-Broadway and eventually made its way to Broadway; where it ran at the Booth Theatre for 469 performances in the early ‘90s. In 2017, "Once on This Island" made a revival at The Circle in the Square Theatre, where it obtained the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival.
"Once on This Island" is not simple feat. With Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' impassioned score; the musical demands vocal powerhouses, emotional depth, and most of all, compassion. Fortunately, Potomac Senior High School's cast and crew were able to accomplish this challenge with ease and ingenuity.
Sally Deen's portrayal of Ti Moune was something to admire. Deen carried a strong sense of innocence to the character that left the story heartwarming and ultimately, sentimental in the end. Deen's love for Daniel, and her overall eagerness for her life to begin, brought various levels of emotion to the tale. Even more impressive were Deen's exhilarating dance moves in "The Ball".
The Gods were a major highlight of the night. As Asaka, the God of Earth, Ednali Figueroa provided a strong maternal sense to the story, in addition to having excellent comedic timing and expressive mannerisms. Kevin Patterson's interpretation of the morose Papa Ge, God of Death, sent chills shivering down the spine. Despite being the central antagonist, Patterson's faultless energy and physicality produced tons of laughs throughout the night, and displayed humanity in various moments throughout the show. Not without mention, Mia Aragon's Erzulie, God of Love, was beautiful in every way. Aragon's strong vocals added dimension to the Gods and her number "The Human Heart" left the audience inspired.
The technical elements of the show were absolutely gorgeous. The sunset colors reflected off the cyclorama and the scenic cutouts transported the auditorium to a faraway island in the Caribbean. The lighting by Zainab Ali and Carlos Salinas was also very effective in using gel colors to reflect the mood of the scene; for example, shades of red were presented in the more intense moments.
"Once on This Island" is, in the most pure sense, a story about trust, love, and hope. A story about finding oneself in the darkest of times and gaining the courage to fight against society's expectations. Potomac Senior was able to effectively spread the message about why we tell the story, in their most pristine fashion.