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Once on this Island

a Musical
CATEGORY : MUSICAL
by Lynn Ahrens

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 3391

SHOWING : April 30, 2009 - May 31, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Start your summer vacation early with the calypso sounds of this Caribbean musical. A beautiful peasant girl, Ti Moune, falls in love with Daniel, a boy from the wealthy side of the island. When an accident brings him to the brink of death, Ti Moune bargains with the gods, offering her life for his in this romantic tale of two different worlds. You will leave the theatre seeking a drink with an umbrella in it.


CAST & CREW LIST
Producer Anthony Rodriguez
Set Designer/Technical Director Britt Hultgren
Musical Director Ann-Carol Pence
Director Brenda Porter
COSTUME DESIGNER SHILLA BENNING
Little Ti Moune Michaela Bost
Papa Ge Bradley Candie
Ti Moune Jeanette Illidge
Erzulie Amber Iman
Armand Clayborn Knight
Asaka Naomi Lavette
Agwe Eric D. Moore
Andrea Xylina Nuckles
Daniel Eugene H. Russell IV
TonTon Julian Spencer G. Stephens
Mama Euralie Barbara Washington
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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A Remarkable Time at the Theater
by ilovetheatre
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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Telling the Story
by Dedalus
Thursday, May 14, 2009
4.5
It’s a familiar story. In fact, it’s a couple of familiar stories. Girl falls in love with boy from other side of the island, Gods bet on humans’ constancy, tragedy ensues, Gods engineer happy ending. It’s Romeo and Juliet, Ariel and her Prince, Tony and Maria, Buffy and Angel. And, no matter how many times it’s told, no matter how many settings it’s placed in, no matter how many hearts it breaks, what really matters is that it really matters.

In “Once on this Island,” the peasant inhabitants of a small nameless island are watched over by the Gods of Love, of Earth, of Water, and of Death. They live in isolation from the others, the city-dwellers, the descendants of the original inhabitants and their slaves. The God of Water sends a storm and young Ti Moune survives, now an orphan. When she grows up, the antic God of Death wants to prove that death is stronger than love, so he sends the lighter-skinned Daniel to the peasant side, victim of a car crash. The rest of the play follows the expected story. Ti Moune follows Daniel to the city, nurses him back to health, and falls in love with him. But, societies isolated from each other have separate and contradictory traditions. Will death be stronger than love? Will tradition and duty?

This is a sweet little play, really an extended one-act. It’s filled with marvelous Caribbean-influenced songs by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime” and “Seussical”), and boasts some outstanding performances and designs. If the archetypical story is familiar enough, the specific trappings are not. I really liked the transformative dénouement, the specifics of the Gods’ characters, and the unconditional devotion of Ti Moune to both Daniel and her traditions. If Daniel’s embracement of his own traditions and commitments is a bit unexpected, he has the good graces to not like the choice he feels compelled to make.

Jeanette Illidge as Ti Moune is marvelously sincere, even innocent. If her voice tends to lose its belt in the upper register, it never loses its accuracy or its ability to move. Eric Moore as the Water God Agwe never loses his belt, and his “Rain” is one of the highlights of the show. I also have to commend Eugene Russell’s Daniel, and Sarah Johnson’s Andrea (promised in marriage to Daniel when they were children). The rest of the cast fills out the story with variety, energy, and skill, and Michaela Bost (as young Ti Moune) is a cute-as-rain scene-stealer.

Costumed in a full range of color and set on an attractive (and versatile) tropical island set, this is a visual delight, a welcome respite from our gray spring days.

So the question remains, why is such a familiar, and oft-told tale so enjoyable, so compelling, so moving? Can it be something so simple that we are genetically programmed to believe love transcends death, tradition, and expectation? Can it be that we know love can be a two-edged sword, that it cuts both to the heart and through it? I suspect this latter may have something to do with it. We’ve all felt the pain of heart-break, the joy of requited love, the frustration of accommodating those loved-one quirks that drive us bananas. Simple tales of unconditional love reaffirm the choices we have made, the affections we have built, the ties we have chosen to knot.

And when things go south, as they inevitably do in small ways, as they too often do in large ways, it is comforting, moving to see a story that reassures us that even when things go completely wrong, we know that love can kick death’s butt anywhere anytime and in any tradition.

And that, my friends, is “Why We Tell the Story.”

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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The Magic Isn't There
by playgoer
Friday, May 8, 2009
3.5
"Once on this Island" tells a mythic, but gentle Caribbean tale. To make the show its most effective, the audience needs to be drawn into the magic of the storytelling. Aurora's production, while professional and enjoyable, didn't manage to do that for me.

Part of the problem is the set. Ever since it moved into its new space, Aurora has had difficulties creating sets that use the space instead of just filling it. Here, the central set is a simple ramp on one half of the stage and a tree-like set of steps on the other. It's basic and workable, but the band adds visual clutter to the background of one half of the stage. On the other half, gauzy white curtains are sometimes drawn in front of the upper part of the ramp. The space is so high that the curtains are totally out of scale with the rest of the set. The set is functional, but not magical. It doesn't look balanced.

Vocally, the show was also off the mark, at least on the opening weekend. A few of the voices sounded strained in solo sections, particularly Bradley Candie's. Signs of strain work against the spellbinding magic "Once on this Island" calls for. Chorally, the show has the strong vocal harmonies that musical director Ann-Carol Pence is known for.

There are a lot of nice touches in the show. Evoking a speeding automobile is done effectively with just a few simple props. Including child Michaela Bost throughout the show brings smiles to the faces of the audience. Even here, though, there are problems. The automobile sometimes has to make sharp turns to work on the limited floor space, and that limits its momentum. Ms. Bost doesn't always seem to be portraying Little Ti Moune in the scenes in which she's been cast, and that softens the focus of the storytelling.

The cast is strong. All the actors come across as winning, likeable performers. Eugene H. Russell IV in particular, cast as the roue Daniel, brings more sympathy to his role than might be expected. His terrific voice helps too. Jeannette Illidge as Ti Moune certainly has the looks and voice to succeed, but I didn't feel she gave a deeply textured performance.

Since the material is so strong, I would recommend this production to anyone unfamiliar with the show. The score is catchy and enjoyable, and the book speeds by in an intermissionless gallop. All that's lacking is magic. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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