Even with some of the performers not available for rehearsal, the Holy Family Academy gym already had a Caribbean air, perhaps because of the large sunset painted on the rear wall of the stage, which students and alumni positioned themselves around.
It was two weeks away from their first performance of “Once On This Island,” and many of the performers were still getting used to the blocking, where to move, how to hold their hands, and what steps to take next. Yet all seemed caught up in the feeling that they were involved in something special.
“It’s saying that it’s okay to be different.” – Christina Garced
The cast and production crew represent a collaboration of old and new – former students, current students, even potentially future students— which reflects the theme of the play.
“Once On This Island” is a delightful musical fable written by Lynn Ahrens with music by Stephen Flaherty. It is based on Rosa Guy’s novel “My Love, My Love,” which in turn was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid.”
This lively Caribbean musical presents a twist on the traditional “The Little Mermaid” tale. “Once On This Island” is performed in the format of a story being told and passed down from one generation to the next.
“This is what’s going on with this performance,” Virginia Gill of Holy Family Academy said. “Holy Family is a school where generations of women have been educated and have handed down their love of the Holy Family experience to their daughters and granddaughters.”
The majority of the project’s staff consists of alumni. The director, vocal director, and choreographer were all cast members in the previous HFA performance of this play in 2003.
Several girls – including leading lady Caroline Gonzalez – are third generation HFA students.
Little Ti Moune will be played by five different fifth graders.
Social values and social class
While Christina Garced, who serves as choreographer for the play, is also an alumnus, she didn’t have to come back to HFA as she never really left. She works with the school’s Dance Troupe, a position she has held ever since graduating high school and college.
She said the play involves bridging social values and social class, something that reflects the vision of the school.
“It’s saying that it’s okay to be different,” she said.
Each song is distinct and the performers seem to get energized by them.
“The first song in the show hooks the audience in and never lets them go until the end,” Garced said.
Gill said she even heard some of the students singing the songs as they headed home after rehearsals, and said the play seems to bond the cast into a kind of community.
During tech week – the point where all the technical aspects of the play are worked out – the cast shares a meal together, catered by Tony Gagliardi of Mama Rosa’s Restaurant. He is the father of an alumnus of the school.
A large production
With about 40 people involved, this is a large production.
Cast members include Caroline Gonzalez as Ti Moune, and St. Peter’s Prep’s Mark Kenny as Daniel. In the role of the gods are Rebecca Balance as Asaka, mother of the earth; Alexandra Wepner as Agwe, goddess of the water; Taylor Kemp as Erzulie, beautiful goddess of love; and Prep students Noah Morris and Isaac Atayero as Papa Ge, the sly demon of death.
The cast also includes Samantha Stanowski as Mama Euralie and Kaitlyn Paonessa as Andrea, as well as St. Peter’s Prep students Eric Kenny as Tonton Julian, James DeVoursney as Armand, and Isaac Atayero/Noah Morris as the Gatekeeper.
The cast also consists of girls from local grammar schools, who are involved with HFA through the Junior Dance Troupe, a feeder group for HFA’s Dance Troupe.
Little Ti Moune will be played by five different fifth graders – one for each night’s performance. These performers include Jade Somers, Leah Nevins, Gabrielle Ogbin, Emily Gill, and Danielle Pelliccio.
The role of the storytellers will go to Isaac Atayero, Leigh Ann Boyle, Jessica Dougherty, James DeVoursney, Rachel DeVoursney, Kathleen Figueroa, Sarah Gill, Amy Hunter, Shakia Karpha, Emma Massarelli, Colleen Mernar, Megan Nevins, Michele Petrakian, Brianna Pineiro, Erica Rubino, Daria Serpe, Jessica Stancampiano, Samantha Sysak, Erica Turcotte, and Morgan Zygmund Murphy.
Island children will include Emily Gill, Leah Nevins, Gabriele Ogbin, Alyssa Reynolds, Danielle Pelliccio and Jade Somers.
The production staff includes Jim Coe, director; Nancy Figur, producer and costumer; Emily Fencik, musical director; Mary-Kate Figur, vocal direction; Barbara Chimento, technical direction; Lisa Schwictenberg, artistic direction; Christina Garced, choreographer; Regina Gill, business manager; Cathy Mernar, ticket sales; and Michael O’Rourke, set design and construction.
For more information
The sets are built by the fathers of students and men of St. Joseph’s Guild.
The total running time for the play is about 90 minutes. Tickets cost $12 and $15 based on seating.
Performances will be from March 31 to April 2 at 8 p.m., and 2 p.m. on April 3.
For more information, call (201) 339-7341 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.