Tropical dance music and passion in ‘Once on this Island Jr.’

Caribbean style music and dancing flow non-stop throughout “Once on This Island Jr.” the upcoming musical at the San Juan Community Theatre.

“Once the orchestration begins there is no room for forgotten lines or missed entrances,” said director Penelope Haskew, explaining that the show will be a challenge for her third annual musical theater camp students, which was part of the reason she chose it.

“Once on This Island Jr.” opens at the San Juan Community Theatre, Thursday, Aug. 17, beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday is the theater’s “pay-what-you-can” night. The show continues Friday, Aug. 18 at 7 p.m, and Saturday, Aug. 19 at noon. Tickets for those two shows are $8 for adults and $5 for students. For tickets, contact the San Juan Community Theatre at 378-3210 or visit

Haskew realized as soon as she began coordinating the summer theater camps that there was a strong desire for musicals. After San Juan Island School District Middle and High School Drama Director Jenni Merritt came on board as assistant director in 2015, they began integrating musicals into the program.

“She is a force of nature in own right, having her as my right-hand man made all this far less daunting,” Haskew said.

The first couple of shows were Disney stories that 7- to 18-year-olds were familiar with. This year, she believed her hardcore theater students were ready to stretch their wings and take on a more formidable production.

“Once on This Island Jr.,” tells the story of a young peasant girl, Ti Moune on a Caribbean Island who rescues and falls in love with Daniel, a wealthy man who lives on the other side of the island amongst the upper-class. After Daniel is returned safely home, Ti Moune ventures out on a quest to be with Daniel, fighting against prejudice, hatred and death along the way.

It is the classic tale of a hero’s journey, said Haskew, but her triumphant return is not quite what is imagined. Unlike many Disney productions, “Once on This Island” does not have a happy ending. The tale is more reminiscent of Hans Christian Anderson’s “Little Mermaid” than Homer’s “Odyssey”.

“She bets on love and loses,” Haskew said. “But her story is still full of hope and beauty, and faith in goodness.”

The book and lyrics were written by Lynn Ahrens, recently famous for the musical “Anastasia.” The music was written by Stephen Flaherty. Haskew and Merritt were able to attend a question and answer session with Ahrens during a recent trip to New York City. “’Once on this Island’ was one of their first shows together and she [Ahrens] picked it out as one of her favorites,” said Haskew. “Unlike many projects, she feels it is complete and just right. There isn’t anything in it she wishes she could edit or alter.”

Ahrens also mentioned that the final stanza in the show is her favorite lyric she ever wrote, according to Haskew. See the show to find out why.

The music will come from recorded tracks provided by the Music Theatre International, a resource organization that has a compilation of Broadway musicals, rather than the students, according to Haskew, but she is hoping the incredible drummer Blake Budwill who participated in the theater’s Sensational Summer Variety Show will play in at least some of the scenes.

The cast is large, 36 of those participating in the theater camp are in the cast. A handful more of the kids are on the tech crew, assisting stage manager Melyssa Taylor, Haskew said. This group will be doing the lights, helping with sets, props, scene changes, all the behind-the-scenes activity. The total rehearsal time is three weeks. In the past, musical productions have taken 9-12 weeks, according to Haskew, who went on to express gratitude to all of her help, including;

• Michelle Mazzarella – choreographer

• Callie McKay – costume designer

• Jamie Mountford – music director

• Mary Hurley – props mistress

• Sandy May – set development

• Georgia Smith, – lights “wizard”

“I cannot overstate how lucky I am that the kids have all these tremendously gifted women cooking up ideas,” Haskew said. “It is going to be a labor of love that we are excited to share with the community.”

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Staff photo/Heather Spaulding Allison Powers sings in the play.

Staff photo/Heather Spaulding Allison Powers sings in the play.