For the last few decades, openly gay theater artist Ricardo Aponte has been working constantly throughout Atlanta, but lately he’s perhaps busier than he’s every been. His latest project is the musical “Once On This Island.”
The musical, opening soon at Georgia Ensemble Theatre, is the first show of the company’s 25th anniversary season. Based on the 1985 novel “My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl” by Rosa Guy, the musical – with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty – takes place in a French archipelago in the Caribbean where a peasant woman is able to bring people of different classes together – with love. It opened on Broadway in 1990 and is about to get a Broadway revival.
According to Aponte, the show – which contains elements of “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Little Mermaid” – is his all-time favorite piece of musical theater.
“I was born in Venezuela, so the music we heard on the coast there is very close to what you hear in this score,” he said. “It feels like home to me. I very much connect to it. The themes throughout the musical seem very relevant to 2017. It’s the right time to do it. I love the show’s sense of the importance of love, how important it is in our community and the legacy that you leave behind.”
This is his first time being involved in a production of “Island.” Bob Farley, GET’s artistic director, invited Aponte in to direct and asked what kind of production he’d be interested in. “Once On This Island” seemed like a perfect fit.
Aponte moved to the area 20 years ago, but he was already very involved in theater before he got here. His aunt had a ballet company in Venezuela and his mom was also involved in the troupe.
“I had been watching them since I was a toddler,” he said. “I was always at drama camps and acting school.”
Aponte’s first class when he came to America was theater, and he didn’t know English very well, but had to recite some monologues. Some time later, he made his professional acting debut in “Guys and Dolls” at Aurora Theatre. Since then, he has turned to choreographing (the last 10 years) and directing (the last five) as well. His credits are numerous, but a highlight was 2016’s “In the Heights” at Aurora Theatre, which won him a local Suzi Award for his choreography.
For this production, he is both directing and choreographing, which has been a natural progression.
“The directors that you know on the Broadway scene that are directing musicals started off as choreographers,” he said. “We have to be able to make sure we story-tell through movement.”
As of press time, he’s only been in rehearsals for two days and he lauds his performers as being very in touch with the material.
“They are such true artists; the way that they can tell a story through the music is unbelievable,” Aponte said.
Aponte feels LGBT audiences can especially appreciate the messages of “Once On This Island.”
“In this political climate, we are trying to find people who are like-minded,” he said. “But I think this show invites you to reach your hand out to another group and see where they are coming from.”
“Once On This Island”
Sept. 14 – Oct. 1
Georgia Ensemble Theatre
Roswell Cultural Arts Center
950 Forrest Street, Roswell, GA 30075