Westwood turns up the heat with ‘Once Upon this Island’
In the foreground is Lauren Perry as TiMoune. In the back, from left are Genevieve Garner (Papa Ge, demon of death), Alyssa Freeze (Asaka, mother of earth), Olivia Kilpatrick (Agwe, god of water), Mariah (Erzulie, goddess of love). -Photo provided

    Westwood Middle School is going native with a Caribbean-themed show that will open this Thursday night, 7 p.m., Feb. 22, with a wealth of student talent on stage and off. Veteran talent from student contributions While the talent pools from students and former students of Westwood, the talent is anything but elementary. In charge of the choreography is Coffee County Central High School sophomore, dancer and Westwood speech and theater alumnae, Sarah Thomas. “It’s a kinda a Romeo and Juliet story about …forbidden love. It’s very Caribbean and African-esque.  I’ve normally done jazz and hip-hop numbers with all the shows I’ve choreographed. This is a way to branch out into more tribal types of dances,” Thomas said. She explained that when she begins crafting the dance for a show, she thinks of the story being told. “I will look up dances in the style. My mom and I looked up soft shoe for ‘Willy Wonka.’ “I’ll take those very basic moves … like a jazz square, and if the story tells something of the ocean, I’ll do something with the arms to make waves of the ocean,” she said. “The results are something new and different to the audience, but they’re these simple dance moves.” Specifically, for “Once on this Island,” the uniqueness of the story offers creative options that a show like “Annie” or “Seussical” that requires a specific feel to it. “With this show, there is so much depth to it that one minute we’re doing these weird intricate movements where we’re patting on the legs, the next we’re making waves with our body. There are so many different levels to this show – it’s amazing. I’ve never been able to incorporate so many different styles while still keeping it in that Caribbean feel.” In addition Thomas, the cast includes local actor Alyssa Freeze, as Asaka, mother of the earth. Freeze has appeared in an Indy film as well as productions at Cannon County Center for the Arts and Millennium Repertory Company productions. Rounding out the cast will be   38 middle school cast members, three middle school crew members and one College Street Elementary student, Becca Thomas, who plays Little Girl/Little TiMoune. Director, Karen Lewis said the show will demonstrate the depth of talent at the school. “I read quite a few shows each year, looking for one that will showcase the talent of the students who are eligible to be in our school play the following year,” she said. “Last spring I was moved by the story of TiMoune, an orphan girl, who crosses socio-economic boundaries to pursue what she believes is her destiny.  Though the setting is an unknown island in the Caribbean, many believe it to be Haiti where there exist drastic differences between the poor peasants and wealthy elite. “Because many Haitians pay homage to Pagan beliefs, the story of ‘Once on this Island’ incorporates the god of water, the goddess of love, mother of the earth, and the demon of death.” Four principal storytellers narrate the tale of TiMoune’s journey and her encounters with the Pagan gods and the perils of trying to cross a dangerous landscape as well as cultural barriers. “Of course, a professional show in the round in an intimate theatre and a middle school ‘junior’ production on a stage in a gymnasium are exceedingly different, but the experience in New York influenced some of my choices for Westwood,” Lewis said. “It also bolstered my enthusiasm for telling this beautiful story about bravely facing life’s circumstances and carving out a path that ultimately chooses love above all else,” Lewis said “The cast and crew of Westwood Middle School’s Once On This Island, Jr., hope to weave a story that will not only entertain but also inspire our audiences long after our show closes.” If you go: Show dates: Feb. 22-24 Show time: 7 p.m. Tickets only at the door: $8 for adults, $5 for students through college-age, free for pre-schoolers who sit on their parents’ laps Preshow event: Because of the Caribbean-style music in our show, the blue and gold steel drum bands from College Street Elementary play a 15-minute set on our opening night, beginning at 6:45.  Under the leadership of Greg Ray, 16 fourth and fifth graders began rehearsing together in September.  This auditioned group consists of beginners and those with a year of experience already.