American Idol's Syesha Mercado to Lead Paper Mill Playhouse's ONCE ON THIS ISLAND!


Paper Mill Playhouse has just announced that American Idol finalist Syesha Mercado has been cast as Ti Moune in the Millburn, New Jersey, theater's production of Once On This Island (book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty). More than 20 years after its premiere, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens are re-inventing their first musical with Tony-nominated director Thomas Kail (In the Heights, Lombardi, Magic/Bird) and choreographer Bradley Rapier (So You Think You Can Dance). Once On This Island begins performances on Wednesday, May 30, 2012, and runs through Sunday, June 24, 2012. Complete casting will be announced at a later date. Once On This Island is proudly sponsored by Bank of America.

The official press opening is scheduled for Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 7:00pm.

Once on This Island, a highly original and theatrical Caribbean adaptation of the popular fairy tale The Little Mermaid, garnered eight Tony nominations in 1991 for its Broadway run, including Best Musical, Book and Score. The West End production opened in 1994, where it won the 1995 Olivier Award for Best New Musical. In almost non-stop song and dance, the show tells the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who rescues and falls in love with Daniel, a wealthy boy from the other side of her island. When Daniel is returned to his people, the fantastical gods who rule the island guide Ti Moune on a quest to test the strength of her love against the powerful forces of prejudice, hatred and death. This tropical treat from the award-winning writer-composer team behind Ragtime tells their tale of romance, tragedy, redemption and rebirth with an astounding score, captivating choreography and an irresistible Caribbean beat.

"There have been many wonderful incarnations of Once On This Island over the years," stated lyricist Lynn Ahrens, "but we're really excited about Paper Mill's upcoming production, a re-imagining which we think will be extraordinary." Composer Stephen Flaherty adds, "The multi-ethnic cast is stunning, the re-conceived orchestrations are gorgeous, and from what we've seen so far, the sets are a knockout. All in all, we can't wait!"

Once On This Island will be performed eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Single tickets are on sale from $25. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973-376-4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Groups of ten or more can receive up to a 25% discount on tickets and should call 973-315-1680.

Syesha Mercado (Ti Moune) was born January 2, 1987, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She spent her childhood in Bradenton and Sarasota, Florida, where she discovered her love for singing in her church choir, like many of today's standout artists. She attended school for the performing arts, where she began to master her unique singing voice. Aiding in that mastery was her participation in a local band that had her constantly performing at many local community and charity events, quickly winning over the hearts of anyone who listened to her.

In 2006, Syesha became a contestant on ABC's The One: Making a Music Star, and when that was cancelled after four episodes she moved on, and in 2007 her amazing voice won her the Florida Supersinger contest. In 2007, Syesha auditioned for the hit FOX show American Idol, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Kelly ClarksonRuben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, and Jordin Sparks and become the next American Idol. Falling short of that goal by one week, Syesha came in third place out of more than 100,000 hopefuls (and the last female standing). On the American Idol Finale Syesha was honored to duet with Seal and Donna Summer.

Very rarely in show business do pure vocal talent, charisma, performance ability, and flawless choice of material align to create a moment of pure magic. To witness Syesha Mercado's rendition of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's "One Rock and Roll Too Many" from Starlight Express on American Idol was a defining moment. That performance brought the audience to its feet and elicited rapturous praise from judges Randy Jackson ("you will be a huge Broadway star"), Paula Abdul ("you brought the house down!") and even Simon Cowell ("as sexy as Michelle Pfieffer – one of your strongest performances!").

In addition to connecting with the public via her network television performances and subsequent YouTube viewings (numbering well into the hundreds of thousands), her American Idol performances enjoyed over 200,000 digital downloads on iTunes. Syesha's success on American Idol resulted in a windfall of accolades and professional opportunities. In addition to being awarded the keys to the city of former hometowns Bradenton, Florida, and Bridgeport, Connecticut, she participated in the American Idol LIVE Tour 2008, performing 53 concerts in 49 cities both in the United States and Canada and garnering a slew of positive reviews that singled her out.

The Miami Herald's assessment of Mercado's contribution to the tour was typical of the press and fan reaction to her work, stating "she earned the first (and only real) standing ovation for her rendition of the Dreamgirls tune "Listen." As fate would have it, her rendition of the song landed her a lead role in the national touring production of Dreamgirls. Mercado, who envisioned a career doing Broadway, film and television in addition to being a recording artist following her stint on Idol, toured the US and Japan in the role of Deena Jones in the newly conceived production of the stage musical opened at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in November 2009.

Once On This Island will be directed by Tony nominee Thomas Kail. Kail was nominated for a 2008 Tony Award for his direction of In the Heights. Kail also directed the critically acclaimed production of Lombardi and Magic/Bird on Broadway. Off Broadway credits include: In the Heights (Callaway Award, Drama Desk nomination, Outer Critics nomination), New York City Center: The Wiz, Lincoln Center Theater: Broke-ology (Mitzi Newhouse Theater). Kail is the co-creator and director of the hip-hop improv group Freestyle Love Supreme, which played the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, Montreal Comedy Festival and Melbourne Comedy Festival. Kail also serves as the Artistic Director and co-founder of Back House Productions. On television Kail directed "The Oprah Winfrey Oscar Special" in 2010 for ABC; the pilot episode of "Storymakers" for AMC and served as co-music director and consulting producer of PBS show "The Electric Company."

Once On This Island will be choreographed by Bradley Rapier. As founder and artistic director of the award- winning performance group The Groovaloos and co-creator and director of choreography of the Off Broadway smash GROOVALOO, Rapier's goal has been to spread the power, beauty and endless creativity within the hip-hop dance culture with the world. On the theater front his cool style and creative approach on City Kid was touted as "miraculous" and "exhilarating" by the LA Times and garnered him both the 2008 Ovation and NAACP Award for Best Musical Choreography. He followed with a 2009 NAACP Best Choreography Award for his work on the Reprise Theater production of Once On This Island.

Bradley Rapier's TV and commercial choreography credits include: Lincoln Heights, Days of Our Lives, The Image Awards, TV Land Awards, MTV's 2gether, Skechers, Wrigley's and Sony. Additional credits include performances with and/or choreography for: Queen Latifah, Miley Cyrus, Brian McKnight, Diana Ross, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Boyz II Men, Cameron Diaz, Alanis Morissette, and Fat Boy Slim. Most recently, Bradley was associate choreographer under director Des McAnuff for the remount of the classic Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway.

Once On This Island will be musically directed by Lynne Shankel who served as the resident music supervisor for the Tony Award-winning revival of Company. She was also music director and orchestrator for the Off-Broadway hit Altar Boyz (Drama Desk nomination, Orchestrations). Shankel served as Music Director on Broadway for: Disney's Beauty and the Beast; You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Off-Broadway for: The Thing About Men, Summer of '42, The Cocoanuts.

The design team includes: scenic design by Donyale Werle (Peter and the Starcatcher), costumes by Jessica Jahn (Die Mommie, Die!), lighting design by Kenneth Posner (9 to 5, The Merchant of Venice) and sound design by Randy Hansen. The production stage manager is Lisa Dawn Cave. The full cast and creative team will be announced at a later date.

Paper Mill Playhouse's Producing Artistic Director, Mark S. Hoebee, added, "Paper Mill Playhouse's new production of Once on This Island will focus on storytelling. Through Donyale Werle's brilliant use of masks, puppets and recycled scenery, this brilliant, multi-ethnic cast tells the story of a peasant girl on a tropical island, who uses the power of love to bring together people of different social classes."

Paper Mill Playhouse, a not-for-profit arts organization, is one of the country's leading regional theaters. Paper Mill Playhouse programs are made possible, in part, by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, A Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Paper Mill Playhouse is a member of Theatre Communications Group, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, the Council of Stock Theatres, and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.

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