What is the price we pay to achieve our dreams? Do we have to sell out to reach our goals? Is it even worth it at the end? These are some of the questions asked in the musical “Once Upon a Rhyme,” premiering with Tisch Drama Stage and performed by Tisch Drama students. Set in a suburban town called Clifftown in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, “Once Upon a Rhyme” is a visually stunning exploration of human ambition, perseverance and the sacrifices made in the name of success.
The story centers around a young man named Prince (Javier Fox, Tisch ‘19), who dreams of becoming a rapper. However, the people in Prince’s life have other plans for him, and often try to force the artist to conform to their ideas of what his future should look like. The show follows Prince’s journey as he struggles to find his own identity and tries to decide what type of person he wants to be.
“Once Upon a Rhyme” does a fantastic job of depicting the conflicted psyche of a talented artist facing pressure from family and friends. Fox brings sensitivity, energy and anxiety to his portrayal of Prince.
The two-and-a-half hour performance explores numerous tense topics. Toxic masculinity, race relations, family, duty and love are all examined through the eyes of various characters. The concept of masculinity is one of the more fleshed out themes in the show, and often serves as an obstacle in Prince’s road to success. Setting the show amid the 2008 financial crisis works well as it highlights the desperation of people trying to achieve their dreams in a time of stagnation and decline.
The rap and hip-hop centric songs in this show are reminiscent of “Hamilton.” The music and lyrics, written by Ronvé O’Daniel, are as intricate and well thought out as those of the revered Broadway show. “Once Upon a Rhyme” treats viewers to a variety of musical styles, from rap battles and upbeat inspirational pop songs to soulful ballads and energetic gospel.
Also lending to the “Hamilton”-esque feel of the show is the fact that the choreographer, Stephanie Klemons, is an associate choreographer and cast member in “Hamilton” on Broadway. The dancing in the show is a wonderful mixture of hip-hop and lyricism, and every move is meticulous and well executed. The ensemble is filled with talented dancers who’s precision and energy make for an exciting and engaging performance.
There were many standout performances in this all-Tisch drama show, including senior Princess Sasha Victomé as Prince’s well meaning mother, and sophomore Maya Thomas as Miss Morgan the dance teacher. Both actors have beautiful voices and delivered stirring emotional performances. Also notable are senior Kristopher Saint-Louis as Gary, Prince’s entrepreneurial cousin and senior Ray Fanara as Big Trey.
All together, the acting, choreography, staging, set design and music make for a fantastic show. Moreover, “Once Upon a Rhyme” deals with weighty topics that will keep audiences talking long after the show lets out. This fun, high-energy musical has something for everyone, and is a treat for all to watch.
“Once Upon a Rhyme” runs through Oct. 6 at the Abe Burrows Theater.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 1 print edition. Email Lily Dolin at [email protected]