A scene from Stable Theater's March production "Once on this Island" showing Momma Euralie (Monalisa Cherry) and Papa Julian (Richard Jimenez) talking to "Little Timone" (Anneliese M. Gordon) on the porch of their island hut. The play invoked various aspects of Caribbean culture and oral tradition.

BAMBERG, Germany -- The U.S. Army Garrison Bamberg Stable Theater received 22 nominations and five awards at this year's Tournament of Plays Awards Ceremony for its March production 'Once on this Island.'

Topper golden statues are coveted prizes awarded annually to individuals and ensembles from Installation Management Command-Europe theaters.

Awarded April 18 at the Village Pavilion Ballroom in Heidelberg's Patrick Henry Village, the best director of a musical category went to 'Once on this Island' director Margi Ritscher.

Ritscher first directed for Stable Theater in 1996 and has continued to direct there and at Ansbach's Terrace Playhouse. 'Once on this Island' marked the 12th production that Ritscher has directed for Stable Theater.

"When Jack [Austin] asked me if I would direct the Topper entry for 2009, I was happy to agree," Ritscher said. "I did, however, want to make sure that we chose a piece that would continue the level of challenge and message that Bamberg has become known for. I wanted us to take another risk."

Drawing alternately on Caribbean culture, music and religion, 'Once on this Island' is a musical version of Hans Christian Anderson's classic fairytale 'The Little Mermaid.'

The play incorporates classic love story themes and oral traditions of the Caribbean. The cast and crew worked long nights and weekends to transform Stable Theater's stage into a tropical setting.

The Musical category was particularly competitive this year. Stable Theater competed against Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe Performing Arts Centre's 'Cabaret;' Ankara Stage on the Run's 'Seussical;' Vicenza Soldier's Theatre's 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat;' Aviano Community Theater's 'The Wizard of Oz' and other productions, all nominated for Toppers in the musical subcategory.

Although Ritscher had previously been awarded a Topper for best actress in a minor role, this was the first year she won best director. Five previous nominations in the category, one for each Topper she entered into the competition, reflect Ritscher's skill and passion for the plays she's directed.

"'Once on this Island' appealed to me because of the universal messages of emotions and conflicts that it offered. The show was designed for an ethnic cast. I wanted to show that the story could be told effectively by a multi-cultural cast," Ritscher said. "Personally, I saw that the show would challenge me to study Caribbean culture and dance, which presented me with new growth opportunities."

Along with Ritscher, four of the 22 Stable Theater nominees were awarded Toppers in both technical and performance categories. Best lighting design for a musical went to James Fredrick, best keyboard accompanist to Austin, best instrumentalist to Pfc. Jose Antonio Ramos on bass/percussion and the entire 'Once on this Island' cast was awarded best ensemble.

Ritscher and Austin, Stable Theater entertainment director, were "blown away" by the community's response to 'Once on this Island.' The success of opening night was soon spread through word of mouth and multiple viewings of the show were sold out.

The triumphant outcome mirrors the many hours cast members devoted to rehearsing, and the constructive and positive attitude of the cast, Ritscher said.

Actor Kathy Marsh agreed.

"The winning of the ensemble award was something no one really expected," Marsh said. "We were pretty confident with our music and lead actors but had a lot of new additions to the cast. It shows we were able to work well together and be cohesive despite so many new faces."

Gigi Miller, whose husband, son and daughter were all in the show, drew a similar conclusion.

"All of the cast had a lot of fun doing the show," she said.

Though Ritscher was thrilled to win in the directing category, the recognition of the cast's hard work and dedication overshadowed her personal win.

"The really important Topper was the Best Ensemble. The cast was phenomenal and they really deserved it," Ritscher said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16