Sunday, July 14, 2002

Once On This Island (Porthouse/KSU)

'ONCE ON THIS ISLAND' a calypso delight at Porthouse

Combine the purposeful directing of Victoria Bussert, the fine musical direction of Nancy Maier, the creative choreography of Eric van Baars, the whimsical costuming of Robin Ruth, the consistent dialects created by Chuck Richie, and a multi-talented cast with a lovely script by Lynn Ahrens and the memorable music by Stephen Flaherty. The results? 'ONCE ON THIS ISLAND,' Porthouse Theatre’s audience pleasing evening at the theatre.

'ONCE ON THIS ISLAND' was Ahrens' and Flaherty's first real taste of success. Based on the novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy, the show is a twist on the Little Mermaid legend. The musical tells the story of Ti Moune, a poor native peasant girl who falls in love with Daniel, an upper class white boy whose life she saves after a car crash. Central to the story are four gods that the peasants believe rule their lives. The gods of Love , (Erzulie), Earth (Asaka), Water (Agwe) , and Death (Papa Ge) cause the lives of the young lovers to intersect, and send Ti Moune on the fateful journey that tests the strength of her love. It centers on the idea of stroytelling and the way people use stories to understand their own life expereinces. As a line in the play says, “Our lives become the stories we weave.”

Set in the French Antilles, 'ONCE ON THIS ISLAND' boasts a score that makes the feet tap, the body flow and the nose smell the Caribbean breezes. There are rousing, upbeat numbers like "Mama Will Provide" and "Some Say," poignant ballads like "The Human Heart" and "Forever Yours,” emotional songs such as “A Part of Us,” and the joyous “Why We Tell The Story.” Throughout, each song helps build the tale and grows from the story's Caribbean roots.

'ONCE ON THIS ISLAND' opened on Broadway on October 18, 1990 and played for 469 performances. The show received eight Tony Award Nominations, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book.

The Porthouse production is a delight. It shimmers with the smells, sights and traditions of the island. There is hardly a weak link in the production elements or casting. The voices are pure and melodic. The dancing is precise and full of creative abandonment. Under Bussert’s clear direction cast members understand the story, their role in that tale, and how to develop their presence.

Thomasina Gross is enchanting as Ti Moune. She has a wonderful voice, moves well and acts effectively. Dominic Roberts is adequate as Daniel, Ti Moune’s love. He sings and dances well. At times, however, his acting makes his character less than believable. Angela Gillespie-Winborn and Brian Johnson light up the stages as Ti Moune’s adoptive parents. Lauren Marshall’s dance solo is excellent.

All the supporting actors are effective, but Kristopher Thompson-Bolden and Yolanda Christine Davis stand out. Portraying the Death god, Thompson-Bolden grabs and holds the audience each time he appears. This is a very, very talented young man. Davis lights up a stage with an infectious smile and beautiful singing voice.

Capsule judgement: If you only see one show this summer make it 'ONCE ON THIS ISLAND.'