In years past, students at Rider University have always been able to count on the spring musical being a fantastic performance. Previous musicals at Rider include Catch Me If You Can and Spring Awakening. While entirely different from one another, both shows provided their audiences with amazing music and breathtaking numbers. This year, students can expect the same with the University’s production of Once On This Island, running April 5 through April 9 in the Yvonne Theater. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for students and seniors and preview performance tickets are $9.
Trent Blanton, director of this production, enthuses about having the opportunity to work on it.
“I absolutely love this show,” Blanton said. “I went to go see an African American play – Upon the Shoulders – and then then I wanted to do [Once On This Island] at Rider immediately. We have a lot of students of color, and this show suits our black student population.”
The musical, set in the French Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, centers around a peasant girl living on one of the islands who uses the power of love to bring together people from varying social classes. Its story deals with a love, grief and loss.
“It’s heartbreaking and funny,” Blanton said. “It’s definitely sad, but it’s good. It’s a short one, only about 85 minutes long. It moves fast, though, and it’ll tear your heart out.”
Production for the show is currently still happening. According to Blanton, the process of putting on Once On This Island has been extremely collaborative. Its crew includes a former Rider student, Abbey Sierakowski, as the choreographer.
“It has also been a great bonding experience for the students of color,” he said. “Half of the cast are upperclassmen, so they’ve been here for a while. The nature of this show has really pushed us to grow closer together. The best thing in the world is getting to watch the students grow. Overall, it’s been a very transformative experience.”
Blanton went on to describe the technical nature of this show.
“Once On This Island relies mostly on storytelling,” he said. “There’s not a lot of scenic stuff. It has a lot to do with the actors and their abilities to convey the story at hand. There aren’t many props, so there’s nowhere for them to hide. They really have to showcase their talent. It gives the students the essence of how actors should be trained. Much of professional theater doesn’t have many props.”
In addition to the show’s actors not having much scenery with them on stage, their rehearsal process has also been an ever-changing occurrence. While some productions rehearse in the same space for the weeks or months leading up to their debut performance, Blanton’s has had to change multiple times.
“We had little space and many different spaces in which we had to rehearse,” he said. “That was challenging. Music sounds different depending on the space you put it in, and when you’re moving around so much, you have to adjust quickly. We have to recalibrate and find our sound again, and it’s hard to get situated. But it’s good practice for the students since you don’t get a big adjustment period in the world of professional theater.”
Once On This Island deals with many different themes; one of the most prominent is love. It is such a universal thing to deal with, and it’s what Blanton hopes audience members will walk away with after seeing the show.
“Love is more powerful than anything,” he said. “This show reaffirms the power of love, which is fitting in the current divisive state of our country. Love wins.”
Rehearsal photo: Pictured (from left): Javon King, Lancelot Douglas, Essence Williams, Abeba Isaac, Micah Bowser (child in center), Sheldon Steele, Charlene Jean, Devon Wheeler, Terrie Goins.