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Photos: Once On This Island at Freud Playhouse

Director Billy Porter and Grammy nominee Ledisi mark their debuts with Reprise Theatre Company in the 1990 musical "Once on This Island," opening the 2008-2009 season, September 2 to 14 at UCLA's Freud Playhouse.  The press opening is September 3.  Bradley Rapier, founder of The Groovaloos, choreographs and Darryl Archibald is the music director.  Reprise Theater Company is led by Artistic Director Jason Alexander and Producing Director Susan Dietz.

A 1990 Tony nominee, "Once On This Island" is an imaginative retelling of "The Little Mermaid" fairy tale, with overtones of "Romeo and Juliet," set on a Caribbean Island, with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, the team who created the 1998 hit "Ragtime."  Porter and Rapier have assembled a cast which includes many Broadway and American regional theatre veterans; including principals Yvette Cason, Vanita Harbour, Jesse Nager, Leslie Odom Jr., and Nita Whitaker. Newcomer Kristolyn Lloyd will play Ti Moune.

Most recently Porter helmed "Being Alive," a new revue, which brought African American theatre and music idioms to songs of Stephen Sondheim, at Philadelphia Theatre Company. As an actor, Billy Porter has appeared on Broadway in "Miss Saigon," "Five Guys Named Moe," "Grease," "Smokey Joe's Café," "Dreamgirls," and "Hair" and Off-Broadway and regionally in "Romance in Hard Times," "The Merchant of Venice," "Topdog/Underdog," "Angels in America," "Songs for a New World," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Jelly's Last Jam." His one-man show, "Ghetto Superstar: The Man That I Am," debuted at The Public Theater and was nominated for both a 2005 Drama League Award and a GLAAD Media Award.

Porter said, "'Once on This Island' is a study in contrasts: rich versus poor, immortal versus mortal, light versus dark, life versus death.  We have taken what many think are disparate elements - hip-hop/soul, gospel, jazz, musical theatre, pop, and blues - and like the play itself, we are bringing them together to tell the story."

"We have chosen a cast of performers - including 2-time Grammy nominated Ledisi whose roots are in theatre as well as African American contemporary music. These artists embody and fuse these differing styles, with the hope of creating a theatrical event that embraces relevancy.  And as my priMary Collaborator, we have Bradley Rapier, who brings his hip hop background - a style influenced in part by African tribal dances and in part from American streets - to help bring 'Once on This Island' to life."

Featured in "Once On This Island" in the role of Asaka, is singer-songwriter Ledisi.  Often compared to Ella Fitzgerald, and noted for her scat style of singing, Ledisi was nominated for two 2008 Grammy Awards -- Best New Artist, and Best R & B Album for Lost and Found, her third album but first release for Verve Music Group, a major historical label.  She also made her film debut this year in George Clooney's "Leatherheads." She will release a Christmas album this September.

Simultaneous to her singing career, she became part of the musical theatre world as well -- involved in the workshop production of "The Color Purple" and as an understudy in the original Public Theatre company of Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's "Caroline or Change" directed by George C. Wolfe. All the while Ledisi was writing and cutting demos in her dressing room, and flying to Los Angeles to get them recorded.

Choreographer Bradley Rapier, founder of The Groovaloos, brings his street dance, break dance and hip hop styles to a theatrical work with this production. Bradley has choreographed a feature film, television series, music videos and live performances for MTV's current smash boy band parody project, "2gether."  He has also worked with Fatboy Slim, Brian McKnight, David Foster, Deborah Cox, Sinbad and Alanis Morisette. 

He was nominated for the American Choreography Award and a Groovaloos performance closed the show. After ripping up the stage for the Skechers national tour and TV commercials, The Groovaloos took 1st place at the American Street Dance Championships. Bradley performed with The Groovaloos and hip hop legend "Bizmarke," for the opening segment of this year's presentation of NAACP Image and Dance Awards.

Playing Ti Moune, newcomer Kristolyn Lloyd makes her Los Angeles stage debut. A 2007 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, her credits include Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet," Leocadia in "Hello Again," and Hymien in "As You Like It" directed by Di Trevis. Kristolyn is a regular at the Los Angeles Upright Cabaret and worked with Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis (the creators of the Tony Award winning musical "Urinetown") on their new musical "Yeast Nation."

The principal cast features veterans of both regional theatre and Broadway. Yvette Cason was an understudy in the original 1981 company of "Dreamgirls" for the character of Effie White; two years ago she played May, the mother of Deena Jones, in the feature film version.  Brian Chandler's Broadway credits include "The Lion King," "Timon Of Athens" and "Na." His Off-Broadway and regional credits include "Annie 2," "Five Guys Named Mo," "Black Eagles," "A Soldier's Play" and "King Lear." 

Bryan Terrell Clark has worked extensively in regional musical theatre, including leading performances in "Sophisticated Ladies" at Atlanta's ALLIANCE THEATRE, and Billy Porter's "Being Alive" at the Philadelphia Theatre Center. Vanita Harbour appeared in the original Broadway production of "Once on This Island" and its subsequent national tour. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, she has been seen regionally in "Dreamgirls," "Blues in the Night," and "Nomathemba" as well as on television in recurring roles on "One Life to Live" and "General Hospital."

Jesse Nager appeared on Broadway in "Mary Poppins," "Good Vibrations" and "Mamma Mia!" He appeared Off-Broadway in "Fame on 42nd Street" and has appeared regionally in the World Premiere of "A Little Princess" in 2004, as well as Billy Porter's "Being Alive," at Philadelphia Theatre Company.

Leslie Odom, Jr. performed on Broadway in "Rent," at La Jolla Playhouse in "Jersey Boys," and the Geffen Playhouse in "Keep Your Pantheon," as well as Billy Porter's "Being Alive," at Philadelphia Theatre Company. He appeared for three seasons in "CSI: Miami." 

Lance Roberts was seen in the Reprise "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Other Los Angeles credits include scaring over 8 million people as Jafar in Disney's "Aladdin." New York credits include "March Of The Falsettos," "The Me Nobody Knows," "Forbidden Hollywood" and "The First." Nationally, he has starred in "Ragtime," "Dreamgirls," "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Honk," "I'm Not Rappoport," "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Five Guys Named Moe." 

A former Miss Louisiana, Nita Whitaker started as Female Grand Champion on "Star Search." In 2005, she was the guest performer at The Freedom Awards honoring Oprah Winfrey, Ruby Dee and Paul Rusesabagnia.  She sang duets with Andrea Bocelli during his 2006 Winter Tour and often travels with multi-Grammy winner David Foster as his featured artist.  She has performed with Chris Botti, Faith Hill, Celine Dion, Richard Marx, Josh Groban, Stevie Wonder and Yolanda Adams. 

"Once on This Island" is performed Tuesday, September 2nd through Sunday, September 14th (press opening September 3) at UCLA's Freud Playhouse. For tickets, please call the UCLA Central Ticket Office at 310/825-2101 or visit
About "Once On This Island"

If ever there was a musical created from good fortune, it was "Once on This Island."  Looking for something to read, librettist Lynn Ahrens was at a bookstore in New York, reached out and at random plucked out "My Love, My Love" by Trinidadian author Rosa Guy, paid $1.50, and began to read.  Enchanted by the tale of Ti Moune, a poor West Indies village girl who wins, and then loses, the love of a prince that she saved from death, she thought it an ideal base for a musical  -- a tale of love, loss and redemption.  

With its infectious calypso and reggae infused score by writing partner Stephen Flaherty, the show established them among the forefront of composer-lyricist teams.  This year they celebrate their 25th anniversary of working together.  Their shows include "My Favorite Year," "Seussical," "A Man of No Importance," "Dessa Rose,"  "The Glorious Ones," and "Ragtime," the winner of the 1998 Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for their score.

"Once on This Island" was originally staged at off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons.  After auditioning the material for its then Artistic Director Andre Bishop (who now runs Lincoln Center Theatre), there was a long silence.  Bishop then said, "I'm having a hard time trying not to cry in front of my associates."  

Frank Rich in the New York Times said it is, "A ninety-minute Caribbean fairy tale told in rousing song and dance.  This show is a joyous marriage of the sophistication of Broadway musical theatre and the indigenous culture of a tropical isle.  It is a deeply felt tale of a romance between a black peasant girl and a worldly mulatto aristocrat -- a revisionist 'Little Mermaid' in which class and racial differences, rather than the sea, pull the star crossed lovers asunder.  It has the integrity of genuine fairy tales in that it doesn't lead to a saccharine ending, but to a catharsis, a transcendent acceptance of the dust-to-dust continuality of life and death.  The audience feels the otherworldly thrill of discovering the fabric of its own lives in an enchanted tapestry from a distant shore."

The Broadway production, directed and choreographed by Graciela Daniele and starring LaChanze as Ti Moune, opened on October 18, 1990 at the Booth Theatre, where it ran for 469 performances. 

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Photos: Once On This Island at Freud Playhouse
Ledisi and Kristoyln Lloyd

Photos: Once On This Island at Freud Playhouse
Ledisi and Kristoyln Lloyd

Photos: Once On This Island at Freud Playhouse
Kristolyn Lloyd and Ledisi

Photos: Once On This Island at Freud Playhouse
Kristolyn Lloyd

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