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Acting is family affair for Murphys

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO/ PAUL S. FARDIG The Murphy family of Lake Oswego, daughter, Malaika, left, father, Yohannes, center and mother, Laila, will appear in Stumptown Stages production of  “Once on This Island.” The musical opens tonight and runs through Oct. 8.  Laila says rehearing for the musical has been a bonding experience for the family, which also includes four-year-old Zia.

The Murphy family of Lake Oswego has taken family togetherness to a whole new level. Lately mom, Laila, dad,Yohannes and their eldest daughter, Malaika, have been acting together, rehearsing for this weekend's opening of Stumptown Stages 'Once on This Island.' Though getting up on a stage may be a stretch for the average family, the Murphys are quite comfortable with all eyes on them.

Local theater-goers will recall Laila's past performances as Percy in 'The Spitfire Grill' at Lakewood Theatre, Eponine in Broadway Rose's production of 'Les Miserables' and as Crystal in 'Little Shop of Horrors.' In addition to acting, Laila is a professional flutist and has played with the Oregon Symphony and the Portland Opera. She and Yohannes have also performed as part of the Lake Oswego Library's First Tuesday music series for about five years.

Ten-year-old Malaika debuted in the Broadway Rose's production of 'The King and I.'

Yohannes has a long history with Stumptown. Previous roles include Benny in 'Rent,' the Wiz in 'The Wiz,' for which he earned a PAMTA nomination for best actor in a musical, Curtis in 'Dreamgirls' and Judas in 'Godspell.'

Laila and Malaika make their débuts with Stumptown in 'Once on This Island,' and Malaika's role will be her first with solo lines and solo songs.

'It's actually been a gift to our family,' said Laila. 'The whole production team and crew have been really great about letting our little girl Zia be at the rehearsals and she just gives her little input and sits and watches. So it's been a real bonding experience for us … and I think we will look back and really be thankful for this.'

What's has been the most fun part of preparing the musical?

'Being on stage with my husband and my daughter,' Laila said. 'I think it's very unusual. We all do our separate musical things and to be together in a show we've loved for years is a dream come true. The storyline is very meaningful. Yohannes and I have loved this musical for many years and we never expected to be in it together.'

The musical takes place in Haiti and revolves around a poor peasant girl who falls in love with a boy from the other side of the island. He is of French descent, with lighter skin.

'It's about race and culture and how they are not allowed to inter-marry,' Laila said. 'They fall in love - so it's a story about all the pain, love and hope this young girl has. And everyone can relate to it. We've been crying in rehearsal and they've seen it 500 times! It keeps moving and the music is stunning. It's a very real story.'

Laila plays Erzulie, the goddess of Love.

Malaika place Little Ti Moune, a young version of the peasant girl.

Yohannes plays Armand, the stern father of the boy from the other side of the island.

'Yohannes always gets these intense roles,' laughed Laila.

The production involves storytelling, calypso song and dance.

'It's colorful and lively. It's really moving,' Laila said. 'It's intense at times and I tell people with children it does have its intense moments. They will have to decide if they want to discuss race related issues. That's something that they'll have to be ready to do.'

'Once on This Island' is Stumptown Stages opening production for the season.

'We have big things in store at Stumptown Stages,' said Executive Artistic Director Kirk Mouser. 'We have officially moved to Brunish Hall in the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. The venue has been updated to support our musical productions.'

'Once on This Island' opens tonight and runs through Oct. 8. Tickets range in price from $10 to $30 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster at 1-800-982-2787 or at the PCPA box office.

Next up for Stumptown Stages will be 'Ebenezer Ever After' running Nov. 25 through Dec. 24.