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After the Storm's 'Island' to Feature New Orleans Stars

On Monday, June 18, 2007, After the Storm - a non-profit film and theatre project that uses the power of art to raise and distribute money, increase awareness and revitalize the lives of children in the New Orleans community - will present two performances of a very special production of the award-winning musical Once On This Island.

Starring students and young artists from the New Orleans area, these two benefit performances are scheduled for 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Playwrights Horizons Theatre (416 West 42nd Street). Playwrights Horizons is the theater where Once On This Island first premiered in 1990.

After the Storm is, according to press notes, "a 501 (c) 3 non-profit foundation dedicated to helping youth and local organizations working with youth that have been affected by environmental and economic disaster in America. Starting in New Orleans and expanding nationwide, After the Storm offers assistance and support by collecting and channeling donated funds back into the community and underwriting projects and relief organizations devoted to the community's youth."

The first step in After the Storm's creation was the formation of a life-to-life link between the New York theater and film community and New Orleans.

With book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, Once On This Island is "a highly acclaimed Broadway adaptation of the popular fairy tale The Little Mermaid. The musical weaves the story of a black peasant girl on a mythical Caribbean island who survives a hurricane and then must discover her purpose in life. The unpredictable 'gods' who rule the island decide to guide the girl on a quest, and to test the strength of her love against the powerful forces of prejudice, nature, hatred and finally, death. It is a perfect parallel with the story of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina."
 
"People say theatre has the power to heal," said Ahrens. "We hope that this production of our show and the efforts of After the Storm will remind all of New Orleans -- especially the children -- that love, community and the sharing of our stories can help heal hearts and rebuild lives."

A team of award-winning producers and artists spent January and February 2007 in New Orleans to cast and rehearse a new production of Once On This Island with local kids (ages eight to 18), musicians and artists. Working with the St. Mark's Community Center - a 100-year-old center devastated by Hurricane Katrina - they helped rebuild and reopen the center while offering a series of free performances and a benefit evening to raise much-needed funding for the community.

The New York presentations of the musical are the continuation of this life-to-life link that was started in New Orleans. The young local cast members will be flown to New York City for a five-day program of rehearsals, master classes, Broadway activities and New York sightseeing trips, culminating in the benefit evening for an audience of Broadway stars and the New York theatergoing audience. In addition, cast and company members from several Broadway productions have held fund-raising drives to sponsor each New Orleans cast member's trip to New York. Those shows include A Chorus Line, The Drowsy Chaperone, The Producers, Spamalot, Spring Awakening, The 25th Annual…Spelling Bee and Wicked, with additional support from Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS. After the Storm's production of Once On This Island is directed and choreographed by Gerry McIntyre (one of the original Broadway cast members) with musical direction by Randy Redd and production design by Amanda Rehbein.

The musical is produced for After the Storm by James Lecesne in association with Lesley Mazzotta and Gary Solomon Jr.

In addition, After the Storm's Once On This Island production is being documented by award-winning filmmaker Hilla Medalia, and follows the production of the musical from New Orleans auditions through the New York City benefit performance. The documentary film "includes the story of each young actor's life in the wake of Katrina. The focus is not on rescues, evacuations and losses, but on survival, hopes and dreams."

The film "explores the young actors' daily lives, how they are coping with a struggling school system, limited job opportunities and the loss of family members and friends. Through their eyes, the film's audience can view the recent history of New Orleans, the impact of Hurricane Katrina and how art can help the kids overcome their current difficulties and rebuild a community." The documentary film is directed and produced by Hilla Medalia, with Executive Producers John, Ed and Mark Priddy.

There are two performances of Once On This Island on Monday, June 18, 2007. Playwrights Horizons Theatre is located at 416 West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues.

Tickets for the 5 p.m. performance are $50 each. Tickets for the 8 p.m. performance are $100 each and include a special post-show reception with Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, the cast and producing team.

To purchase tickets, please call 212-255-3684 or visit www.afterthestormfoundation.org.

Production photos by Donn Young


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