ART BEAT: Theater welcomes Tony nominee for 'Once on This Island' gala

Holley Calmes

Holley Calmes

Red Phoenix Theatre highlights its summer with a special weekend today and Saturday as it presents "Once on This Island," a Broadway production that garnered eight Tony nominations. A special public preview will be held at 8 p.m. today. On Saturday, there will be a matinee at 2 p.m., and later a silent auction and black tie gala, culminating with an 8 p.m. performance.

On hand to support Red Phoenix will be a familiar voice for everyone who grew up with Disney's "The Little Mermaid." Jodi Benson has portrayed not only Ariel but is the voice of Barbie in "Toy Story 3," as she was also in "Toy Story 2." Benson was given a Tony nomination for her work on Broadway in "Crazy for You," and her resume is an almost endless list of impressive credits on film, television and stage.

The tie-in with the character of Ariel and "Once on This Island" is obvious. The play is an adaptation of the fairy tale "The Little Mermaid," only the setting is in Haiti. A young peasant girl named Ti Moune tests the strength of her love against powerful forces of prejudice, hatred and death.

"This show is one that truly carries a beautiful message," said Red Phoenix Artistic Director Jeffrey Scott Bailey. "It tells us that moments of tragedy and loss can bring us together as a community. It is also one of those shows that starts out like a rocket and is perfectly paced. The audience is always sad for it to end."

"Once on This Island" is a production created by Red Phoenix's "The Atlanta Musical Theatre Project," and is presented through special arrangements with Music Theatre International.

There are 29 individuals in the cast which include professionals, pre-professionals and experienced students (some who have agents.) Christina Daves plays the lead role of Ti Moune. Louis Griffin is Daniel, and Joy Creamson, Justin Miskin, Justin Forte, and Lauren Dawidowicz are the Gods.

"My whole premise is to put people at different levels together, because they all learn something from each other," Bailey said. "It's an incubator. The youth have so much enthusiasm which rekindles the professionals. The college student pre-professional get to stretch their legs performance-wise. Plus, we run everything as if it were an Equity house, with all the same rules. We take it very seriously. This is not a camp. This is professional, but it's still fun."

The gala and silent auction will be held by Wallace Reid at the Duluth Art Gallery. Auction items include exciting artwork, evenings in downtown Atlanta with a six hour limo ride, tickets to Chastain Amphitheatre, dinners locally and in downtown Atlanta, and more.

Tickets for the special July 17 gala and silent auction are $35 for special seating and $24 for general admission. The gala begins at 7 p.m. at the Duluth Art Gallery, and patrons will walk the very short distance to the theatre for an 8 p.m. curtain. Tickets for the 8 p.m. July 16 preview are $18 for students with ID and $22 for general admission. Tickets for the 2 p.m. July 17 matinee are also $18 and $22. Tickets can be purchased through Red Phoenix Theatre's website at www.redphoenix.org or call 678-614-6994.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.