Lynn Ahrens’ musical “Once on This Island” tells the story of an endless conflict between the haves and the have-nots.
On an island where two worlds are never meant to meet, a young girl defies all odds to embark on an introspective journey to prove the resilience and tenacity of love. But can love withstand any stormy weather, and even conquer death?
The Tony-winning original musical revival centered on a fearless orphan who saved the life of a rich boy on the other side of the island and fell in love with him.
The mighty island gods, however, had to make her a pawn in their cosmic bet on whether love was greater than death.
Set in the French West Indies, “Once on This Island” explores the concepts of life, pain, grief, faith, hope and the power of love to bring people of different social classes together.
The plot revolves around the two main characters: Ti Maune, a peasant woman, and Daniel, with whom she falls in love.
In the end, the peasant woman defied the gods when they urged her to prove that death was stronger than love so she could regain her life.
The electric wires wrapped around love matters are barely smooth and straight; each love journey is tied in an orbit of uncertainties. In the TIS flyer, personnel manager Ebenezer Kwame Asime was to ask, “What will you give for love? How far will you go to find love? Do you have the heart to love?
These questions reminded me of the lyrics to a song by African-American blues singer Nat “King” Cole. He sang, “Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all…I wonder as my lonely tears fall…”
Before the casting of the play, the director, Ken Darvall, said: “What always impresses me is that the students come out of the woodwork to try and land a part in the school production, whether it’s on stage or backstage. I commend everyone listed in this piece for their effort, commitment, and time to bring back a live performance after the COVID years.
Sound quality through technology
For the entire hour and a half of the musical play, I sat in the front row mesmerized by the beautiful stage effects, decor, props, costumes, makeup, choreography, etc. And to think that all these qualities have generated the effort of the teenagers themselves.
The performance of the two groups of live students – each located on the flanks of the stage – was quite impressive.
What really struck me were the overall lighting, sounds and acoustic effects through technology. I couldn’t help but reminisce about my teenage years in high school where I played the role of King Alonso in William Shakespeare’s tragicomic play, The Tempest, for Speech Day celebrations. Mfantsipim school in 1965.
The play was staged in the crowded Assembly Hall with the then 600 student population plus teachers, parents and so on. How on earth could our whiny little voices cross the hall! And there I was on stage saying my lines: “You stuff these words in my ears against / The stomach of my senses. Would I ever / Marry my daughter from there, / My son is lost…/”
Speaking the Shakespearean language was one thing; to be heard and understood through the crowded room was another grim affair.
Creativity, Activity, Service
The production of the play involved students from grades 7-10 of the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum and grades 11-12. Speaking with Surama King, the CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) coordinator, she said that student participation meets extracurricular requirements for students in grades 7-10.
The CAS commitment satisfied the degree requirement for principals in grades 11 and 12. Another key aspect was fundraising to fund school and student projects.
The CAS idea reflects “the ever-expanding world of service-learning [and how] actively exploring service learning enhances student education and identifies the most compelling factors for successful projects and experiences.
Over the years, Tema International School (TIS) has staged a collection of brilliant plays including Ama Ata Aidoo’s Dilemma of a Ghost; Tim Rice’s musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamboat; Mrs. Acheampong’s comedy, Dormitory C – The Inspection; the Broadway musical, The Lion King; It’s Our Chance by James Ene Henshaw”; Miriam Makeba’s musical, Sarafina; Evolution – A history of fragmented sounds; and The Slaves of Ben Abdulah.
The repertoire also included the Hollywood musical Beauty and the Beast (presented at the National Theatre, Accra on November 23, 2018) and The Marriage of Anansewa by Efua Sutherland. In 2021, The Legend of Akushika by Professor Martin Owusu was performed internally only for students and staff due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This time around, TIS brought the pandemic to an end with the public staging of the school adaptation of Once on This Island, performed on Saturday/Sunday 12/13 November 2022.