ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, now playing at Moonlight Amphitheater through July 3rd is a joyful, colorful, and exuberant show with powerhouse vocals that would blow the roof of the theatre if the amphitheater had one.
The story has some inspiration from “The Little Mermaid”, but the Hans Christian Anderson one, this story is less Disney and more bittersweet. Based on a 1985 novel by Trinidad-born Rosa Guy, this show is set on an island that has a sharp societal divide between the rich societal class, and the working peasant class, and is ruled over by a quartet of gods. When a young girl (Maya Washington) is swept away in a torrential storm, the gods save her by placing her in a tree. Soon she is found and raised by her adoptive parents Mama Euralie (Patricia Jewel) and Tonton Julian (Leo Ebanks). They are poor, but they love and care for her, name her Ti Moune, and she grows up into a lovely and spirited young lady (Brooke Henderson).
Gods can be capricious and cruel, and it’s no different in this story, that’s just how gods in folktales are, you know? Feeling entitled since they saved her life, water god Agwe (Nathan Andrew Riley), earth goddess Asaka (Jodi Marks), goddess of love Erzulie (Anise Ritchie), and the god of death Papa Ge (Edred Utomi) place a wager with Ti Moune at the center – which power truly is stronger, love or death?
When the young, handsome, and wealthy Daniel (Ala Tiatia-Garaud) is hurt in a car crash, Ti Moune rescues him and saves his life. His wealthy father brings him home and Ti Moune follows to continue to take care of him. When he wakes up they fall in love, and Ti Moune believes that she has found her happily ever after, but are the gods really that kind?
Directed and choreographed by Paul David Bryant, the show tempers the darker undertones with vibrance and full-out fun.
Henderson as Ti Moune is expressive, with a sweet vulnerability, and showcases impressive vocals. It’s easy to see how Riley, Marks, Ritchie, and Utomi were cast as the powerful gods, their vocals performances prove their godliness. Utomi has delightfully sinister fun as the god of death Papa Ge, and Riley shines in his number “Rain.”
Kevin “Blax” Burroughs as Armand, Jocline Mixson as Andrea, and the talented young Maya Washington as Little Ti Moune support this excellent cast.
Tiatia-Garaud as Daniel has a sweet and pure tone that is fit for any Disney prince, and allows him to sing lyrics like “Some girls you marry, Some you love” and by the sighs in the audience convinced enough people that this was a romantic thought and not a red flag.
Along with joy and love, forgiveness is a key tenant to this musical and I would not forgive Daniel, which explains why I am not a storybook heroine.
Props and storytelling choices like Daniel’s car and headlights, are playful and fitting additions. Costumes are textured, colorful, and clearly defined for the story and characters no matter where you sit from the stage. Ti Moune’s yellow dress at the ball is both vibrant and fitting to the island setting but also hints at Disney Princess Belle, especially when standing next to Daniel in a blue formal coat.
The orchestra is conducted by Lyndon Pugeda, lighting design by Jennifer Edwards, scenic design by Stephen Gifford, and Projections by Blake McCarty all work together to fill the stage and amphitheater with energy, light, and color that befits the shows exuberance.
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is a show not to be missed and a wonderful way for Moonlight Stage to kick off their summer season. You don’t want to miss it.
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is playing at Moonlight Amphitheater through July 3rd. For ticket and showtime information go towww.moonlightstage.com
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ONCE ON THIS ISLAND
Cast: Kevin “Blax” Burroughs as Armand, Leo Ebanks as Tonton Julian, Brooke Henderson as Ti Moune, Patricia Jewel as Mama Euralie, Jodi Marks as Asaka, Jocline Mixson as Andrea, Nathan Andrew Riley as Agwe, Anise Ritchie as Erzulie, Ala Tiatia-Garaud as Daniel, Edred Utomi as Papa Ge and Maya Washington as Little Ti Moune
Book and Lyrics – Lynn Ahrens
Music – Stephen Flaherty
Director and Choreographer – PAUL David Bryant
Music Director and Conductor – Lyndon Pugeda
Stage Manager – STANLEY D. COHEN*
Scenic Design – Stephen Gifford
Lighting Design – Jennifer Edwards
Sound Design – JIM ZADAI
Projections Design -BLAKE McCARTY
Costumes Coordinator – FELICIA BROSCHART
Properties Coordinator – GABRIELLE TILLINGHAST
Dance Associate – Ala Tiatia-GARAUD
Woodwinds – Ariana Warren
Guitar – PJ BOyee
Bass Guitar – Martin Martiarena
Keyboards – Lyndon Pugeda, KKerianna Brennan
Percussion – Mike Dooley