Review: Once on This Island

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PHOTO BY JOEY MORO
  • PHOTO BY JOEY MORO

The irony was not lost, upon watching a violent storm ravage a Caribbean island in the opening scene of Once on This Island, that at the same time Hurricane Maria was battering Puerto Rico. The Afro-Caribbean-set musical is currently running at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, and the scenery in the wake of the story’s storm is much more uplifting as islanders emerge wearing vibrantly colored costumes among a profusion of tropical vegetation framed against a cobalt sky.

The original Broadway show, with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, was nominated for eight Tony Awards. The show is an adaptation of Rosa Guy’s novel, My Love, My Love: or, The Peasant Girl, and based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. The moral of the fable is essentially that love between social classes will ultimately fail. Andersen revised his dismal ending to be more hopeful, but in 1837, even divine intervention could not alter the social order.

Paris Robertson plays the young Ti Moune (“little orphan”), who is rescued after the storm and adopted by Mama Euralie (Idella Johnson) and Tonton Julian (Robert Diago DoQui). Several years later, Daniel Beauxhomme (Luke Halpern), a gentleman from the wealthy, landowners’ side of the island, crashes his car near their village. Ti Moune (Shangobunmi Durotimi) nurses him back to health and falls in love with him. Warned by her parents that Beauxhomme will never propose marriage, the girl clings to the impossibility that true love will prevail. The relationship between Ti Moune and Beauxhomme appears pleasant and sincere, but he wants her to become his mistress. “Some girls you marry; some you hold,” he sings.

Unfortunately, Flaherty’s rhythmic calypso music is formulaic and not particularly French or Caribbean, though Ahrens’ poetic lyrics elevate his score. Nevertheless, this production’s singers, dancers and musicians throw themselves into the mythical tale with wild abandon and sing their hearts out. Dynamic sister singers Jessica and Whitney Mixon give high-voltage performances while Johnson and DoQui play Ti Moune’s loving, protective parents. Polanco Jones Jr. boosts the show’s energy with African-inspired choreography.

Kathleen Moore, who recently played a singing dinosaur in Triassic Parq, portrays Andrea Devereaux, Beauxhomme’s intended bride, as mean instead of merely entitled. In truth, an elegant Creole lady would never have been in competition with a pretty peasant.

The gods — Erzulie (Taylor E. James), “Goddess of Love”; Agwe (Kebron Woodfin), “God of Water”; and Asaka (Jessica Mixon), “Mother of the Earth” — propel the show. Inventive costumes by Julie Winn spiked the Caribbean punch. Papa Ge, “Demon of Death,” who continually tries to convince the desperate Ti Mourne to end her own life, is quirky in tails and a top hat covered with feathers and a skull.

Once on This Island fails to make a serious statement about the class divide, getting lost in romantic fantasy, but the audience is so well entertained, it seems not to mind.

Once on This Island
7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday
Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, 616 St. Peter St., (504) 522-2081
Tickets $15-$50


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