The Hattiloo is about to open its first show in its new custom-built theater, and director Tony Horne isn't being modest. "We're gonna show off a little bit," Horne says of the new Hattiloo Theatre's opening production, Once on This Island. That's quite a statement coming from Horne, who also directed the Hattiloo's award-winning take on The Wiz and a landmark production of The Color Purple for Playhouse on the Square.
"I call this my dream team," Horne says, describing the creative staff he's assembled to stage Lee Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's calypso-inspired musical mashup of the Little Mermaid and Romeo & Juliet set somewhere in the Caribbean islands stretching between the Gulf of Mexico to the coast of Venezuela.
Horne's creative partners for Once on This Island include music director Dennis Whitehead and choreographer Emma Crystal who worked together previously on a modest, stripped-down production of Dreamgirls that exploded off the old Hattiloo's tiny stage, sending dancers into the aisles and pulling happy, clapping patrons into the action.
The highly adaptable new Hattiloo is airy and spacious compared to the cramped converted shopfront on Marshall Avenue, but Hattiloo's founding director Ekundayo Bandele is committed to providing audiences with the kind of intimate theatrical experiences they've come to expect. Once on This Island's thrust stage puts audiences on three sides of the action and lets performers get up close.
Horne is also intimately familiar with Once on This Island, having staged it in Memphis before, when the now-defunct Memphis Black Rep partnered with the University of Memphis to produce a lush, lovingly imagined regional premiere.
"[This] Once on This Island isn't a regional premiere, but I think that's okay because it's so beloved," Horne says. "It's a fairy tale about the enduring power of love with a lot of color and music. It's really going to showcase the new space and all the talent we have here."