Nancy Sasso Janis
Wolcott High School Student Theater produced the Aherns/Flaherty ('Ragtime') musical 'Once on This Island' on Mother's Day weekend in their gorgeous school auditorium. Director Laura M. Solocius writes that the show was on her directorial bucket list for many years and it marks the first time she has directed a show that is not a comedy. "I hope that my students have learned this year that no matter what trials and tribulations they may face, the right decision to make is always the one that is made out of kindness and love. This show focuses on the love of family, friends, faith and ultimate happiness." The end result was a noticeably beautiful performance that was a feast for the eyes and ears.
The fanciful story of Ti Moune (Simone Dube) is told to a young girl (Julia Thies as Little Ti Moune) by two storytellers (sung well by Emily Waddington and Peter Morgan.) The large cast brings to life the story of the island peasant girl that falls in love with a man above her social class and ultimately brings together all the people on the island in the French Antilles. Every member of the cast had worked with Ms. Solocius and Jaclyn Kinney throughout the four month rehearsal process and often filled the stage with wonderful singing and dancing. From my seat on far house right, I could see the pride on the face of Ms. Solocius as she sat next to the conductor and watched her students perform.
The first act opened with a bang with "We Dance" and ended with the joyful "Mama Will Provide." The second act ended with the magical "A Part of Us" and "Why We Tell the Story." Each production number was beautifully staged, except that when the ensemble members formed two parallel lines to frame the action taking place upstage, it was only effective for audience members sitting in the center of the house.
The four students chosen to play the four pagan gods gave outstanding performances. Alaina Salerno was the nurturing Asaka (Mother of Earth) and definitely wore the best headdress that inexplicably never budged from her head. Jessica Irizarry was a very strong singer as Agwe (Goddess of Water) and Tom Bergamo in some quite amazing makeup grabbed onto the role of Papa Ge (Demon of Death.) Leah Ciccone brought her lovely stage presence to the gentle role of Erzulie (Goddess of Love) and sang beautifully. Mr. Bergamo and Ms. Ciccone recently collaborated on a single performance of 'The Last Five Years' for a senior Capstone project.
Ti Moune's adoptive parents were well-played by Jennie Leonard and Billy Nicol. Anthony DeLuco played the aristocratic Daniel and Michael Rapisarda was his stern father Armand. Erika Farrell was Andrea, Daniel's promised wife.
I was so impressed with the costumes for this production by Costume Director (and "angel") Mary Caye DeSocio. Each outfit marked the class of the character with strong colors. The costumes of the three female gods were of the same cut but the jewel tones and character-rich headdresses clearly reflected their theme. Papa Ge's tail coat with skeleton details was perfect.
Jane Bate conducted the pit orchestra that included former and current WHS students (and the always fine Brad Scoville on synthesizer) to set the mood with the stirring score. The shadowy set was designed by Dan Checovetes, also the technical director, and built by Wes Baldwin and a group of WHS students. The lighting of it was striking and set the mood of each scene. Jimmy Donohue was prop master and Courtney Chute Chenkus choreographed the effective tribal dances.
As a surprise and senior gift for Ms. Solocius, the seniors in the show recently painted (late into the night) the garage door that leads to the WHS theater. The lobby of the theater was decorated in an island theme for the performances and even featured an island combo playing for the audience members waiting in line to enter the auditorium. The hefty program was loaded with advertising from the local businesses that supported this high school program. Their financial support has allowed this theater department to thrive.
'Once on This Island' at Wolcott High School closes Sunday, May 10 with a 2:00 matinee and tickets are available at the door.