Fall Musical Preview: Q&A with the Director of "Once on This Island"

Promo sign for "One on This Island"

Admission to the 2019 EPHS Fall Musical will be $5 for general admission. Senior citizens will be admitted free, as will students and staff with ID. The cast features several students who have already earned state or regional honors for their musical or theatrical abilities.

NOTE: A photo gallery from a recent rehearsal of "Once on This Island" can be viewed by clicking here.

The 2019 Elmwood Park High School Fall Musical, "Once on This Island," will be performed Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 1 to 3) in the school auditorium.

Mr. Noah Pligge is the show's director and choreographer, and Mr. Michael Popplewell is music director and producer.

Tickets are $5, with free admission for students, staff and senior citizens.

Showtimes will be: 

  • 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1
  • 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2
  • 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3

Featuring an ensemble cast, "Once on This Island" debuted on Broadway in October 1990. With book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, the production ran until December 1991, when it closed after 469 performances and eight Tony Award nominations.

A Broadway revival ran from December 2017 to January 2019, bringing the show to the attention of a new generation of theater lovers.

"This musical is one of the most beautiful shows ever written," Mr. Pligge said. "This is one of those years where the musical and dancing abilities of the kids is too good to not do a musical in the fall. It's the perfect show to feature these students."

Seniors Koko Hristov and Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson rehears their roles as Daniel and Ti Moune.

PHOTO: Seniors Koko Hristov and Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson rehearse their roles as Daniel and Ti Moune. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

A Chance for Award-Winning Talent to Shine

"Once on This Island" is set in the French Antilles in the Caribbean. The show tells the story of a peasant girl, Ti Moune, who falls in love with Daniel, a young man from her island's upper class of grands hommes

The EPHS production features senior Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson as Ti Moune and senior Kaloyan "Koko" Hristov as Daniel. Zoe Rice, a 7th grader at Elm Middle School, plays the dual roles of Little Ti Moune and the Little Girl, who is told the story of Ti Moune.

This year's cast is noteworthy for the presence of several members who have already earned state or regional honors for their musical or theatrical abilities. 

Ruiz-Goranson was selected in June to be part of the All-State Production of Elton John and Tim Rice's "Aida" at the Illinois High School Theatre Festival, which will take place in January 2020 at Illinois State University.

Senior Jackie Vargas, who plays Mama Euralie, performed in the All-State Chorus last January in Peoria after being selected for that honor by the Illinois Music Education Association (ILMEA).  

In addition, Vargas and three other senior cast members — Nicole Domagala (Erzulie, goddess of love), Matt Hernandez (Papa Ge, demon of death) and Joe Klockenkemper (Agwe, god of water) — were chosen in early October from almost 2,000 Chicago-area students to perform in the ILMEA District 1 Senior Festival. The festival will be held Nov. 23 at Elmhurst College.

Scroll down this page to see a full listing of the EPHS cast and crew. To learn more about the production, see the Q&A with Mr. Pligge below. The interview was conducted via email by District 401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca. 

For additional coverage, click here for a photo gallery from a recent rehearsal.

Freshman Alanis Rivera will make her EPHS debut in the role of Asaka.

PHOTO: Freshman Alanis Rivera will make her EPHS debut in the role of Asaka, Mother of the Earth. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Questions & Answers with Director Noah Pligge

Q: Why did you choose to do a musical this fall instead of a standard play?
A: This is one of those years where the musical and dancing abilities of the kids is too good to not do a musical in the fall. It's the perfect show to feature these students.

Q: What attracted you to "Once on This Island"? What made it a good fit for EPHS students?
This musical is one of the most beautiful shows ever written. We have been waiting to have the talent to do this show. It just fit this year! 

Q: Were your cast members familiar with the show? How have they received it?
The revival on Broadway definitely made it known to the kids who enjoy musical theater! The rest of the cast quickly caught on to the catchy tunes and beautiful story. It seems like they are excited to perform this show.

Q: What if any similarities do you think the show has with "The Little Mermaid," which was last spring's EPHS musical and also featured Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson in the lead role?
I can find some similarity in the story of the two female leads. They both go after their love despite the challenges they will face.

Q: When did rehearsals begin, and what has the schedule been?
: Rehearsal began after Labor Day. I have been rehearsing every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., and in October we rehearsed Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Getting closer to the production date, we have extended the times of rehearsals and even added some additional dates after school.

Koko Hristov as Daniel rehearses with sophomore Adreana Duarte in the role of Andrea.

PHOTO: Sophomore Adreana Duarte, who plays Daniel's promised wife, Andrea, rehearses with Koko Hristov. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Q: How have rehearsals been going? What challenges have the cast and crew faced?
Rehearsals have been long and hard. Each kid in this program is also involved in at least one or two other activities, including sports. As always, the scheduling conflict has been one of our biggest roadblocks. This show is an ensemble show, and when we do not have everyone there, it's hard to get everything to where it needs to be. We had some big crew students leave us last year, so it has left us with multiple students having to step up to learn sound, lights and spotlight.

Q: Are there any "behind the scenes" contributors you'd like to like to give a shoutout to? 
: Juniors Juliet Howard and Kyla Narayan have helped me out with some choreography! Also, Elm Middle School special education teacher Colleen Byrne worked with our students on the sign language for one of our songs, "The Human Heart." 

Q: What musical accompaniment will there be for the singers?
The pit will consist of all professional players! 

Q: Senior Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson, who plays the lead role of Ti Moune, has also been preparing for the All-State Production of Elton John and Tim Rice's "Aida," which will be performed in January at Illinois State University. How has she been handling the double workload of rehearsing for two separate musicals?
: Elizabeth is a very hard worker. She continues to strive for excellence and never disappoints. She is always prepared and comes to work despite all the challenges of doing multiple shows. She's a rock star!

Q: What are some of the things that have impressed you about the production so far? What are some highlights that audiences can look forward to?
I have been impressed with some of the talent of our underclassmen! There are some new faces stepping up to shine as leads. Freshman Alanis Rivera is making her EPHS debut as Asaka, Mother of the Earth, and performs the show-stopping number "Mama Will Provide."

Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson, Zoe Rice and Quinn Skelly get in position for one of the final scenes.

PHOTO: Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson, 7th grader Zoe Rice and junior Quinn Skelly practice one of the show's final scenes. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

"Once on This Island" | Cast

  • Ti Moune: Elizabeth Ruiz-Goranson
  • Daniel: Koko Hristov
  • Erzulie: Nicole Domagala
  • Asaka: Alanis Rivera
  • Agwe: Joe Klockenkemper
  • Papa Ge: Matt Hernandez
  • Mama Euralie: Jackie Vargas
  • Tonton Julian: Quinn Skelly
  • Armand / Daniel’s Father: Kevin McFadden
  • Andrea Devereux / Madame Armand: Adreana Duarte
  • Gatekeeper: Jacob Smith
  • Little Girl / Little Ti Moune: Zoe Rice
  • Dance Captain / Storyteller: Juliet Howard
  • Storytellers: Lucy Afryl, Melanie Arroyo, Jessica Didani, Jay Gallegos, Konnie Kakridas, Kyla Narayan, Lexi Nieves, Isabella Soto, Michelle Soto, Guillermo Oyola, Aaron Timejardine-Zomeño
  • Additional Ensemble: Mark Javier, Mark Klockenkemper, Olivia Naber, Samuel Perez, Diana Rivero, Victor Sandoval, Magnus Shipinski, Angie Vale

Sophomore Adreana Duarte dances during rehearsal.

PHOTOS: Dance plays a major part in the storytelling process of "Once on This Island." Click images for larger view (District 401 photos by Dave Porreca).

Dance tells an important part of the story in the fall musical.

"Once on This Island" | Crew

  • Stage Managers: Rosie Pontarelli, Joey Goff
  • Crew: Ashley Adams, Hailey Adams, Karolina Czerepko, Isabelle Cruz, Olivia Dombek, Ellie Johnson, Jacob Laufer, Danielle Mihalo, Kamil Musial, Anita Nowakowska, Jacob Peralta, Kevin Ramirez-Gonzalez, Carter Segovia, Lety Vega, Harmony Velez, Melody Velez

Zoe Rice as Little Ti Moune rehearses a number as Quinn Skelly looks on.

PHOTO: Zoe Rice rehearses a number as Quinn Skelly looks on. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

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