COVINGTON, Ga. – A Tony Award-winning musical is set to be performed in Newton County early next month.
Local theatergoers will have a chance to see a production of “Once on This Island” presented by Arts Association in Newton County and Theatre Covington Sept. 6-9 at the Porter Performing Arts Center. The local production is being directed by Jay Tryall with choreography by Amanda Bonilla under the Musical Direction of Lenae Rose.
“It is a great musical that is all about community,” Tryall said. “The story at the basis of the actual musical is about a young girl by the name of Ti Moune who is found by two peasants on an island and raised in poverty. She longs for love and she meets somebody from the other side of the island and he’s one of the wealthy people. It’s just the story of what happens when this girl is turned free to choose love over family.”
Bonilla added, "What’s traditionally been accepted in their community, she just kind of goes against it and follows her heart and leaves her family behind and finds her own way.”
She said Ti Moune’s decision doesn’t turn out well for her but things work out in the end.
“It is happy ever after,” Bonilla said, “but not in the traditional sense. It’s not your typical happy ending.”
Tryall said the show is actually a story inside a story. It opens with a storm-ravaged island and the community huddled together.
“We keep likening it to everything that just happened in Puerto Rico,” he said. “Just devastation- hurricane category winds and storms. The island has been ravaged and there is one little girl who is scared and frightened and this whole community comes together they’re like, ’We’ve made it through this before. We have done this many times before. Let us tell you about the story of Ti Moune.’”
Tryall said that the audience will get a little taste of the storm before the show starts.
“It’s not a traditional show that like at 8 p.m. it starts,” he said, "At 7:30 when the doors open, there will be some music going on in there, the curtains will be open - they’ll be able to see the stage already- and starting around 7:45 I’m going to have the cast start coming in and they’re going to interact with the audience and they’re going to start living in the space to set up the fact that we are basically in Haiti. It’s the jewel of the Antilles, which is Haiti.
“Right before we start the show, you’ll start hearing the winds, you’ll start hearing the thunder and seeing the lightning and all of that so we go through the beginning of the storm.”
Tryall described the show as an operetta-a 90-minute show with no intermission. He said the story is told from song to song with the choreography happening during each song.
“There are not tons of stop dialogue,” he said. “There might be a little bit of a song that tells the story and then a little bit- one or two lines of dialogue after it- and then it goes right into another one.
“There are lots of layers to it.”
Tryall said his production of Once on This Island represents a first for productions in Covington.
“This is the first production that we’ve ever done in Covington that is going to be completely African American,” he said. "Really holding true to the roots of Haiti.”
“I think it’s pretty common nowadays for there to be a mixed cast,” Bonilla said. “But, I think for us, we’re really wanting to stick true to the story and having an all-black cast was very important to us and is very important to us and we really want to highlight that in this community.”
The show features local actors as well as professionals. Tryall said the mixture is part of the mission of Theatre Covington.
“Buncie (Lanners, executive director of the Arts Association) has set it in place that one of the things that she really wants down here is for the local people, the people who want to come into community theatre, to be able to learn from and interact with professional actors,” he said. “So it’s not just professionals, it’s not all semi-professionals like you find at other theatres and it’s not just community theatre. It’s a mix.”
The production features local professional actress Solita Parrish as Ti Moune and international opera singer Theresa Hamm Smith as Erzulie. Tryall said most of the leads in the show – six to seven- have either professional or semi-professional experience.
“We also have kids in the show who participate in the Oxford Singing Children and the Oxford Youth Singers and the Oxford Acting Company, which is all part of the Arts Association, as well,” Tryall said. “So they’re able to not only be in an awesome show and get to have solos and lines that they may not be able to throughout the rest of the school year, they’re also learning how to behave in a rehearsal setting but or what’s expected of a professional actor from people like Solita and Theresa.”
“I think it’s really beautiful that we are bringing those two worlds together and the pairing of them, where we still have youth in the program who are learning and then we still have professionals who are able to uplift and bring the show to another level for this community,” Bonilla said.
Tryall said every one of the show’s 20 cast members will have a moment.
“On the outside looking in, every single person is a storyteller,” he said. “Every single person on stage has a line or a song or a moment where they are pointed out. The cast ranges from middle school to age 55.”
Bonilla said, “We’re super diverse in age and talent and background.”
The show will run Thursday, Sept. 6 - Sunday, Sept. 9 with the Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows starting at 8 p.m. and Sunday's show starting at 3 p.m. at the Porter Performing Arts Center, at 140 Ram Drive in Covington. Tickets are available online at https://sa1.seatadvisor.com/sabo/servlets/EventSearch?presenter=AANC&killLogin=true&tck=true.