Students bring ‘love and death’ musical to life

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Colors and melodies flood the Superior High School stage tonight and Saturday during performances of "Once on This Island Jr."

Although the plot of the summer school musical contains echoes of Disney’s "The Little Mermaid," it was new to most of the cast and crew.

"It’s very different than what you normally see in a musical," said Andrew Lisak, who plays one of the village storytellers. The incoming freshman has been acting in Superior’s summer school productions for five years. "It’s not like Disney; it has a different ending. And it has a Caribbean feel."

Students called it a bittersweet "love and death" tale.

"I think the story’s really interesting and I do like the good versus evil, love versus death," said incoming senior Amanda Schlais, who plays the goddess of love.

"Once on This Island Jr." follows an orphaned girl from the poor side of the island, Ti Moune, and her star-crossed love for a rich boy named Daniel. Their story is spurred forward by the island’s four gods and told by a chorus of brightly-clad villagers.

"Ninety-nine point nine percent of our play is actually just singing," said seventh grader Avery Quinones, a villager. "We have a few talking breaks but seriously, if you looked at our scripts it’s just line after line of music."

"This is probably the most musical musical we’ve ever done," said London Jonasen, an eighth grader who plays a gossiper and a grandhomme.

Many of the chorus members change costumes a number of times during the show, from swirling rain to a chorus of frogs to villagers. Group numbers dominate the play.

"The biggest challenge has been coordinating all the bits because so many people are on stage so much of the time, it’s really hard to rehearse the groups," said high school vocal instructor Rob Calhoon, who is directing the musical with Cheri Tesarek. "Because I want to be working on one thing but Cheri needs them for blocking … and they’re in both."

More than 50 students in grades three through 12 are involved in the cast and crew.

"The kids have been great; they have just been wonderful, absolutely wonderful," Calhoon said.

For four weeks, they’ve been making the production their own.

"All the actors here are just so talented," said Rachael Tuve, an incoming senior who plays a gossiper and grandhomme. "When we first started I was a little bit nervous because, like, we didn’t really know this show so it was like oh, no, can we put this show together in four weeks? But everyone’s been doing an amazing job."

Audience members will be treated to a cast of bright characters and a steady flow of songs.

"It’s a much better story than so many of these shows are," Calhoon said. "And the music is a lot of fun."

The set is eye-catching, as well. The centerpiece is a tree that doubles as the inside of the Hotel Beauxhomme.

"Have you seen the tree? It’s insane," said Tuve, who has been involved in the past five summer musicals. "As soon as that main curtain opens, everyone’s going to be like ‘Whoa.’"

The show has stretched student talents.

"It’s pushing people out of their comfort levels because it’s so different," Lisak said. "I don’t even wear shoes on stage."

"It’s fun meeting new friends here," said fourth grader Audra Lambert. "It’s kind of scary because it’s kind of a little embarrassing because you have to sing in front of them sometimes."

Cast and crew have pulled together to bring the show to life.

"Even if we don’t have our own speaking lines, like, everybody is included in something," Jonasen said.

Audra, a fan of musicals, was excited to be part of one.

"It’s fun and it just lets me sing out," said the fourth grader. "I got over some of my fears, like singing in front of older kids. I really want other people to do this because I want them to feel like me."

For Tuve, the best part of the summer musical experience is the people she meets.

"We’re all just like a big family," Tuve said.

Performances of "Once on This Island Jr." take place at 7 p.m. tonight and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday in the high school Performing Arts Center. General admission tickets are available at the door, $8 for adults, $5 for students.