When Klein Forest Theater Director Ashley Cooper chose “Once On This Island” as the school’s spring musical, she was instantly overwhelmed.
“It’s very popular, but not done very often, and part of that is because it requires a very diverse cast full of actors, dancers, and singers,” she said. “I knew when I chose this musical that it was going to be a challenge.”
The story is about a young girl who gives up her life to care for a young man that she loves. Cooper knew that she had the student body, full of heart and talent to pull it off.
“The story is very important to us at Klein Forest because it really does illustrate the dichotomy between the very poor and the very rich and how love can break those barriers,” she said. “I knew that we had to tell this story, that we were responsible for telling this story.”
When the time came to begin producing the musical, Cooper took a leap of faith and asked senior Jay Prieto to choreograph the entire production. Last year, Prieto choreographed a single duet dance number in a production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” that Cooper was impressed with.
“Basically, from that moment I knew Jay that is a choreographer, he is a fabulous performer, and he is also a choreographer,” she said.
Prieto was excited when Cooper asked him to serve as the choreographer, but he was also nervous.
“I went home and I did my research,” he said. “I looked at not only what the dancing was like, but also the story that was being told and how the two worked together. I listened to the songs over and over and a vision finally formed.”
This opportunity helped Prieto grow as a person, as a performer, and as a choreographer.
“Having the support of our department there every day, being patient with me made a difference when I would doubt myself,” he said. “I’m so thankful for this cast for bringing this vision to life and pushing me. As they got better, my job got harder. They grew so much from the audition and throughout the process that I needed to give more every rehearsal, which made me grow.”
Since the production, Prieto has been contacted by numerous community theaters with audition opportunities. He plans on going to college for dance and musical theater while continuing his involvement in productions to build his resume.
“This has helped me a lot,” he said. “Slowly but surely my name is getting out there.”
In Cooper’s eyes, Prieto’s role as the choreographer for this production is Promise to Purpose coming to life.
“He came here with a promise and he’s exiting with a purpose because now he knows what he wants to do,” she said. “The one thing I wish to leave with my students is a purpose and the ability to be a leader… and that is Jay. Through this whole process, Jay blew me away.”