Kenita R. Miller, Curtis Holbrook, Ryan Steele and More Make Wishes Come True in Once On This Island Benefit

By Michael Gioia
21 Jan 2014

Curtis Holbrook, who will be seen in the upcoming Broadway musical If/Then, directed and choreographed the production (with tight music direction by Jonathan Rose), which — due to limited budget and rehearsal time — was stripped down to its core, using only three translucent flats, various shadow play and an ensemble of storytellers to imagine the island world.

"It was an incredible opportunity for an event like this to really just take Once On This Island and keep it super simple and just tell the story," said Holbrook. "It's a perfect show for this kind of event, so it was really fun to strip it down and just be bare-bones about it and let the songs be what they are and do what they do. Truly, the audience can connect with the show more so that way."

Ryan Steele, known for his dancing in Broadway's Newsies and Matilda, assisted Holbrook on the production as assistant director/choreographer.

"It was my first time being part of the creative team," he said, "and I was so proud of the show and so grateful to be working with such an amazing company. It was a pride that I haven't felt yet in my career, and I hope to feel it more. Doing something that you love feels a lot better when you're doing it for a good cause, and this project absolutely proved that. The energy in the room at every single rehearsal was amazing because everybody was so passionate — not only about the work and the craft, but the reason we were doing it."

The hard work of the cast was met with positive audience feedback.

"It was nice that the audience was responding to everything," said Tamika Lawrence, who played Erzulie, the goddess of Love, and stole the show with her effortless and heartfelt performance of "The Human Heart." "A lot of times doing shows, the audience can be timid or they're listening… It was really nice to just have them respond to everything… They were giving that energy, and we could get it back, and I could get it back. It just gives you more room to play — more room to let your soul out."

Cast members left their souls on stage, and Flaherty, who sat in the center of the orchestra, seemed pleased.

"He just told me that it was incredible," said Accorso, who hopes to see the musical wash up on the New York City shores. "I think it's time for a revival."

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)

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Andre Ward and Kenita Miller
Photo by Monica Simoes