"My expectations for this production of Once On This Island, my favorite musical, were very high," says Free of the experience. "Having never performed in it, I hoped that every moment of my first time would live up to my dreams of the show. I'm reluctant to say this experience has been perfect, but that's because every day I discover something new about this play... and because I know the experience will be over in less than a week. So I'll just say that this group is 'picture' perfect."
More than 20 years after its premiere, Flaherty and Ahrens have reinvented their first musical with Tony-nominated director Thomas Kail (In the Heights, Lombardi, Magic/Bird) and choreographer Bradley Rapier ("So You Think You Can Dance").
The limited engagement continues through June 24 in Millburn, NJ.
"American Idol" finalist Syesha Mercado stars as Ti Moune with Darius de Haas as Agwe, Free as Tonton Julian, Adam Jacobs as Daniel, Kenita R. Miller as Mama Euralie, Alan Mingo, Jr. as Papa Ge, Reed as Andrea, Saycon Sengbloh as Erzulie, Jerold E. Solomon as Armand/Daniel's Father, Aurelia Williams as Asaka and Courtney Harris as Little Ti Moune.
Lynne Shankel is the music director and orchestrator. She told Playbill.com, "The concept for the new orchestration is very earthy. You'll hear lots percussion — hand percussion, marimba and vibes as well as drum set. Also many different ethnic kinds of guitars. Stephen Flaherty really wanted to bring out all the Brazilian and Afro-Cuban influences in the score so you'll find a lot of rhythm."
The production also includes scenic design by Donyale Werle, costumes by Jessica Jahn, lighting design by Kenneth Posner, sound design by Randy Hansen and hair and wig design by Bettie O. Rogers. The production stage manager is Lisa Dawn Cave.
Once On This Island, a theatrical Caribbean adaptation of the popular fairy tale "The Little Mermaid," garnered eight Tony nominations in 1991 for its Broadway run, including Best Musical, Book and Score.
"In almost non-stop song and dance, the show tells the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who rescues and falls in love with Daniel, a wealthy boy from the other side of her island," according to Paper Mill. "When Daniel is returned to his people, the fantastical gods who rule the island guide Ti Moune on a quest to test the strength of her love against the powerful forces of prejudice, hatred and death."