Above: The cast of "Once on This Island" at East Allegheny High School rehearses a scene from the upcoming show.
Amanda Rosco decided to depart from more traditional offerings and cross one item off her bucket list through East Allegheny’s spring musical, “Once on This Island.”
Running this Thursday, Friday and Saturday with shows at 7:30 p.m. daily, plus a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, the musical is set in the Caribbean and focuses on the life of a peasant girl named Ti Moune, who falls in love with a young man from her island’s upper class.
The musical includes elements of “Romeo and Juliet” in the tale of the star-crossed lovers, plus a wager among the four gods who watch over the inhabitants of the island.
“These shows are my babies and major project each year,” said Rosco, who serves as director, producer and music director.
Unlike some districts, East Allegheny’s show is not determined until after a round of generic auditions, Rosco said.
“Because we are a smaller school, I wait to see who comes out for the show and what strengths/weaknesses those students have before selecting,” Rosco said. “I find we are most successful when I can choose a musical that matches the personality and strengths of the cast members.”
Doing “Once on This Island” has been on her “director bucket list” since college, Rosco said. “It’s such a beautiful show with a fantastic score and a good message.”
This is the 10th year with Rosco at the helm for the musicals. Her teaching duties include choir for students at the junior and senior high, drama, music appreciation and music theory. She’s also the assistant band director.
Senior Brooke Bannister (above) portrays Ti Moune. “I grew up around music and musicals,” she said. “I really love music because it is so incredibly powerful.”
She said her role is very emotional, with a lot of depth in the character. Achieving a “happy balance” between rehearsals and her schoolwork with AP and honors classes can be “a little tricky,” she said, but added her teachers have been very understanding.
After graduation, Brooke said she plans to attend college to major in biology and minor in music, before heading to medical school. Ultimately, she said she would like to be a medical missionary.
Rosco cast sophomore Taylar Getsy as Papa Ge, Demon of Death, another key character, and a part originally played by a male actor. --- although a woman was cast as Papa Ge in the 2017 Broadway revival of “Once on This Island.”
“I like it that they picked something different,” Taylar said. “My character is hard to play – it’s usually a male. I love that I get to do what I want with the character. I get to be evil for once – it’s my Ursula. I never thought I’d get it.”
“She’s an incredibly versatile actress, and we considered what was the best use of the talent we had,” Rosco said, explaining it was costumer Leah Klocko who initially suggested casting Taylar as Papa Ge.
Senior Erica Stophel juggles AP and honors classwork with two roles associated with the musical. She’s part of the ensemble and a student producer, basically handling whatever Rosco needs her to do.
“Both of them seem so important to me,” Erica said. “It’s fun when you share a connection. We are like a family, and there are so many of us who would not have crossed paths except for the musical.”
In addition to acting and singing, the entire cast has to dance.
“Everybody has to dance, at least once,” Erica said. “She (Rosco) made it very clear that dance is important.”
Erica said she sometimes provides pep talks to other members of the ensemble.
“The ensemble role is just so important,” Erica said. “I tell them we wouldn’t have a show without the ensemble. Each and every one is important.”
After graduation, she plans to attend college and study biochemistry, hoping to eventually become a pediatric surgeon.
She and Rosco are especially pleased with the results of a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for new microphones.
Erica said the goal was $5,500, and they raised $6,000, including an anonymous donation of $1,500.
“The community was incredibly generous to us and we were able to purchased 12 new wireless mics,” Rosco said. “Our previous mics were 15 years old and malfunctioning. I love that while working on a show that celebrates community and working together, our community did just that.”
Above: Steve Ehrlich directs students Nicole Grillo, Briana Leech, Ben Edwards and Aidan Foscoe during a rehearsal for East Allegheny's "Once on This Island," with Pam Scott and Eileen Joll on keyboards.
Cast and Crew
Other cast members include Evan Antes as Daniel Beauxhomme; Mackenzie Switzer as Mama Euralie; Seth Fuller as Tonton Julian; Isaac Richardson as Agwe, God of Water; Makenzie Rucker as Asaka, Mother of the Earth; Kalei Getsy as Erzulie, Goddess of Love; Lydia Richardson as Andrea Deveraux; Erik Beswick as Armand; Chris Jewel as Gatekeeper; and elementary students Alaina More as Little Ti Moune and Daryle Rucker as Little Daniel.
Lead storytellers are Mary Protheroe and Bryce Schmeltz, with storytellers Julie Kustra, Erick Beswick, Taylor Tempest and Katie Peddicord.
Ensemble includes Miranda Ace, Samantha Balogh, Sydney Cochran, Dalton Cohen, T.J. Cornell, Abby Delisi, Felicia Englert, Vanessa Griffith, Kaitlyn Madden, Austin Myers, Ashley Pawlak, Chris Rayman, Samantha Robl and Kaya Ruffalo.
In addition to Erica, Jess Stevenson is a student producer, with Miranda Ace and Erik Beswick as assistant student producers.
Orchestra director Steve Ehrlich said there is a small pit orchestra, with student musicians supplemented by several professionals. Students are Nicole Grillo, Briana Leech, Ben Edwards and Aidan Foscoe. On keyboards, Pam Scott and Eileen Joll are among the adult musicians.
If You Go
Tickets, which all are general admission, can be purchased in advance by calling (412) 824-8012, or by stopping by the high school main office. Tickets also will be available at the box office beginning 45 minutes prior to each performance. Cost is $10 for adults and $8 for senior citizens and students for the evening shows. All tickets for the Saturday matinee are $5. Additional details at www.eachoir.org.
Bonnijean Cooney Adams is the former city editor of the McKeesport Daily News and a longtime journalist who now works as a freelance writer. This is her first byline for Tube City Almanac.
Originally published April 09, 2018.