Love overpowers death. With its powerful goddess of love and a main character who chooses to love, rather than kill, Once on This Island has a clear moral that can be explained in those three simple words. Yet, the musical has a complexity and depth that cannot be contained in a single phrase. Something about the characters and plot suggests that there is more than one lesson to take away from the musical, that there is more to the story than the obvious battle between love and death. Once on This Island is about breaking boundaries, changing expectations, making sacrifices, and learning to forgive when there is nothing to gain from choosing forgiveness over revenge.
Perhaps the cast gave this depth to the musical. The performers breathed life into their roles, transforming characters who could have been one-dimensional to realistic images of the flaws and complexities of this world. Sophomore Addy Mirliani played Ti Moune, a young woman who falls desperately in love with a man who is too rich for her. Mirliani’s clear yet emotional voice shone through in numbers such as “Waiting for Life”, in which it expressed both the innocence of one who has been relatively sheltered from hardships and a determination to become more than who she is expected to be.
CHS's Once on This Island Reveals the Power of Love, Forgiveness, and Talent
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Mirliani’s character, Ti Moune, plays the Little Mermaid in a musical that can be seen as the Haitian version of Han Christian Anderson’s tale. She is an orphan who is raised by the loving TonTon (Sung Ahn) and Mama Euralie (Megan Gaboury). Her life suddenly turns from its path of relative peace when she finds a boy who has crashed his car and decides to nurse him back to health. As she takes care of him, she falls in love, and when Papa Ge (Matthew Aboukhater), the god of death, comes to take the boy away, she exchanges her life for his, giving Papa Ge permission to take her away at any time. When Daniel (Matthew Maddestra) leaves her village, Ti Moune travels to his city, and Daniel soon falls in love with her. However, Daniel has been promised to another, Andrea (Holly Delaney), since birth, and he chooses to fulfill his duty and marry Andrea. Ti Moune decides not to kill Daniel, though she has the opportunity to do so, and the gods allow her to peacefully die and transform her into a tree.
The gods aid Ti Moune throughout her journey. One of my favorite moments of the musical is when the goddess of love, Erzulie, sings of human love (“The Human Heart”) as she encourages the affection between Ti Moune and Daniel to bloom. Erzulie’s claim that “the failures and the foolishness” can “lead us to the truth” is a powerful reminder that our blunders often teach us more than our moments of success. Junior Meryl Prendergast shined as Erzulie, adding confidence and emotion to the role for a truly memorable performance. With its vibrato and control, her voice also added great warmth to her solo. As the stage lights dimmed at the end of “The Human Heart” and the stars scattered around the stage brightened, a feeling of wonder settled around the audience, and there was a moment of intense silence in which all marveled at the possibilities of love and life.
Conducted by CHS music teacher Brian Thomas, the live music was also flawless. Its timing was perfect with the singing and action. Transitions between scenes were smooth as well and allowed the audience to truly get drawn into the world of Ti Moune.
Perhaps love always overpowers death, but no one said the battle is not a complicated one. Luckily, on March 17, 18, and 19, we had the amazing cast, crew, and band of CHS’s production of Once on This Island to show us the power of not only love but also forgiveness, perseverance, and incredible talent.
Photo Credit: Julia M. Cohen Photography