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'Once on This Island' at the Craterian

Did you ever wonder what Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" would be like if you set it set in the French Antilles in the Caribbean Sea and set it to music from the islands?

Craterian Performances will present the Children's Musical Theatre of Oregon production of "Once on This Island," a one-act musical with a book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, the writing team who also scored "Ragtime," "Seussical," and the animated film, "Anastasia." Based on the novel "My Love, My Love" by Rosa Guy, the show also includes elements of the "Romeo and Juliet" story by Shakespeare, and, of course, "the Little Mermaid."

There will be a dress preview performance at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. The show will run at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 20-21, and at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22.

A peasant girl, Ti Moune, rescues and falls in love with a handsome young man, the heir to the most important fortune on the island. Because the young man belongs to the wealthy class from the other side of the island, Ti Moune has little hope of marrying him or even seeing him again. That does not stop her from undertaking a perilous quest to win his love, aided by the rambunctious gods of the island.

"I was really excited about the message," said CMTO cofounder and artistic director John Taylor. "It tells the story about different classes and how love transcends them. I like how love triumphs over all adversity, in the face of class prejudice. In the original show it was skin-color prejudice also."

"Once on This Island" features colorful characters, zesty storytelling and a rousing score — all with a Caribbean twist.

"The music is probably one of the best contemporary musical scores I have heard." Taylor said. "It's very strong musically and lyrically. The sophistication of the music structure is high. It's surprising how well the kids have adjusted to it. It's exciting to have the kids exposed to that, to have it part of their repertoire."

CMTO's five-week rehearsal schedule includes vocal and performance training by Tricia Leines Pine as well as dance training by Cailen McCandless. McCandless, a dance and theater major at Northwestern University, was responsible for all of the choreography, including the big musical-theater dance numbers. She has one of the leading roles and has done 80-90 percent of the staging and directing in the show.

"In addition to promoting talent on stage, we get to promote directorial talent," Taylor said.

Participation in CMTO requires that every family contribute 20 hours of volunteer hours to support each production. Taylor explained that this can include anything from a mom helping on stage crew, a dad putting up posters around town or a sister sewing costumes.

As a result, production costs are reduced and families share in the experience firsthand while making new inter-generational friends.

Children's Musical Theatre of Oregon was established in 2005 by Taylor and his wife, Rhonda, to provide musical theater performance opportunities for youth ages 5-21. The artistic team trains the young actors, singers and dancers through the staging of full-length musicals with approximately 50 youth in each cast.

Past productions have included "Grease: The School Version" (spring 2006), "The Wizard of Oz" (fall 2006), "High School Musical" (spring 2007), "Peter Pan" (summer 2007), "Broadway: A Musical Journey" (spring 2008), "Oklahoma!" (summer 2008) and "Broadway II: The Journey Continues" (spring 2009).

The organization recently became a program of Craterian Performances.

"This is the third show we've done together consciously as a collaborative effort," Taylor said.

"We continue to be pleased with the partnership," said Craterian executive director Stephen McCandless. "We're impressed with John and Rhonda's energy, enthusiasm and vision and the opportunity it brings to kids in Southern Oregon."

Taylor is the former musical director, keyboardist and conductor of Cirque du Soleil's "O" at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas.

Tickets are $5 for the dress preview performance. Regular performances at $18 for adults, $9 for youth 18 and younger.

For tickets, see craterian.org or call 779-3000.

Four characters from the Broadway musical 'Once On This Island' staged by Children's Music Theatre of Oregon. - CMTO