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Once on this Island, by Lynn Ahrens
A Remarkable Time at the Theater
Sunday, June 7, 2009
4.5
I would just like to begin by saying that I do not ordinarily review shows. After all, my opinions may not be shared by others in the audience and what gives me the right to judge? However, after reading the two previous reviews on this particular show…let’s just say that I felt compelled to write.

“Once on This Island” is the tale of a beautiful peasant girl (Ti Moune) who falls in love with a boy (Daniel) from the rich side of the island. It’s the classic two people meet and fall in love but fate steps in and prevents them from being together leaving us in tears story…set to a lively Caribbean beat. I saw this show a week ago with some friends and we are still talking about it. We were fortunate enough to catch the closing day performance and I must say I was deeply moved by the sincerity of the cast. But we’ll get back to the cast later, right now let me talk production…

The set was different for me and not exactly what I was expecting. While I was aware that the story takes place on an island (dead giveaway in the title) I was curious about some of the set design choices…namely the absence of something blatantly tropical (i.e. a palm tree). The lighting design was absolutely beautiful and transformed the space making most of the strange set design choices irrelevant. The costuming was a roller coaster ride with highs and lows. I didn’t understand why they were singing about being barefoot while wearing sandals. Ti Moune appeared barefoot briefly but the sandals eventually reappeared. The extreme costume lows for me were Papa Ge (who wore drab gray, of all colors, and a sequined hat), Erzulie (who was supposed to be the beautiful goddess of love but was not costumed as such), and poor Andrea (the dress was atrocious and her wedding outfit was just...odd). Directorially there were some awkward blocking decisions made and there were moments that would’ve left me scratching my head if I didn’t already know the story. The musical direction was stellar and I suspect that with the talent on display in this ensemble it wasn’t a difficult duty to perform.

I was very impressed with the cast. There were some definite standout performances (in my humble opinion) and while they are not local theatre celebs, these relatively “unknown performers” will not stay “unknown” for long. Naomi Lavette (Asaka), absolutely knocked my socks off with her gospelized rendition of “Mama Will Provide” and completely won over the audience. People were clapping and singing along! Amber Iman (Erzulie), has a beautiful voice and her version of “The Human Heart” was dazzling. The phenomenal Jeanette Illidge (Ti Moune), was completely in her element with a powerhouse voice that never wavered or faltered. In “Waiting for Life” and “Forever Yours” her voice was as pure and clear as if it were opening night! Over all her performance was so remarkable that after the first ten minutes of the show I was completely involved in the story and even found myself on the edge of my seat. Not only can she sing, but her acting was refreshingly genuine and she completely captivated the audience. By the end I don’t believe there was a dry eye in the house! She took me on a journey and while the whole cast was great, Ms. Illidge was exceptional. I know politically I’m supposed to automatically give Eric Moore (Agwe) a rave review. However, he didn’t succeed for me. While he has an undeniably amazing voice, and did well singing “Rain” I didn’t understand why he was “featured.” He never really formed a character for me. He was just himself on the stage and seemed to flip on when it was time for him to sing or deliver a line and then flip back off. Eugene Russell IV (Daniel) was also a bit of a disappointment. Vocally, “Some Girls” was a little out of his range and I did not enjoy his version of the song. However, his performance as Daniel was very convincing and he and Ms. Illidge had great on stage chemistry.

Over all, this show was very well performed and my friends and I were moved to tears.(I’m so glad I had tissues on hand!) I’m writing this review after the show has already closed because I wanted there to be a review on record that spoke the absolute uninhibited truth (minus the politics). I hope that everyone who experienced this show got to see what I saw because I truly had a remarkable time at the theater.

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