Friday, June 15, 2012

theatre review ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, Paper Mill, June 9

The Paper Mill Playhouse is known for presenting big splashy productions of Broadway hit shows. So I was very excited to hear that their final show of the season would be a little seen musical that played on Broadway over twenty years ago. Once On This Island ran for over a year on Broadway after a successful Off Broadway stint but it hasn't been revived on Broadway and I don't recall any productions in the NY area of the show happening since the original Broadway run.  Having seen the show on Broadway and now at Paper Mill, I was reminded how great of a show it is and how tuneful the score is.  Wth a small cast, this is a show that should be easily produced by regional and community theatres.   

The show is based on the novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy and has a book and score by that prolific team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who are most well known for writing the score to Ragtime.  Set on an island in the French Antilles, Once On This Island is a musical told as a story to a small girl who is frightened during a thunderstorm.  The story they tell her concerns a young girl, Ti Moune, a poor adopted girl who falls in love with a rich boy from the other side of the island.  With elements from Romeo and Juliet, the battle between the upper and lower classes and even a hint of the fairy tale The Little Mermaid, Once On This Island is a joyful musical with a Caribbean beat and a big heart.   

Ti Moune is a young girl who the Gods saved after the God of Water unleashed a flood upon the island. Found by an older peasant couple, Ti Moune grows up to be an active girl yearning for adventure, and as one song says "waiting for life to begin."   When she sees the rich boy Daniel driving by one day in his fancy car, the Gods who rule the island hear her plea and arrange a bet.  They want to see which is stronger, love or death, so one of the gods makes Daniel's car crash so Ti Moune can rescue him and fall in love with him. What happens next isn't exactly your typical Romeo and Juliet story but instead a musical fairy tale of hope, faith, love and yes, even sorrow. 

Syesha Mercado and Adam Jacobs
The star of the show is Syesha Mercado, best known as a semi finalist on American Idol.  She has a big powerful voice and brings a lovely realness and urgency to Ti Moune.  The entire cast is very good with standout performances from Kenita R. Miller and Kevin R. Free as Ti Moune's parents.  They both provided lovely and touching moments and both have voices that were more then effective in providing the right element of emotion to their songs.  Alan Mingo, Jr. as the god of death was extremely effective in adding the required element of fear to the show.  His singing and facial expressions were especially dark and deliciously scary.  Adam Jacobs as Daniel was a little wooden in his acting but has a rich and powerful voice that more then made up for his acting shortcomings.  Aurelia Williams as the Mother of the Earth, Darius de Haas and Saycon Sengbloh as the Gods of Water and Love all had nice solo moments to shine.

The score is simply excellent with many stand out songs.  Flaherty and Ahrens have written so many effective scores, with each one being in a unique style, that hearing this score, one of their earliest, only reminded me again how accomplished of a song writing team they are.  Ahrens also wrote the book, and while the majority of the 90 minute show is sung, there are many memorable and extremely effective and touching lines of dialogue as well.

Director Thomas Kail keeps the show moving along at a fast pace but also provides several appropriate times for the more quiet and emotional moments of the show to shine through.  Imaginative yet seemingly authentic choreography by Bradley Rapier only adds to the enthusiasm and joy of the show.  The highly creative sets from recent Tony winner Donyale Werle provide plenty of imaginative ways for the stage to become the various locales and props needed to tell the story.  While Werle's work here is very reminiscent to her Tony winning work for Peter and The Starcatcher, it isn't repetitive.  I especially liked the fluffy clouds, the use of masks and puppets as well as the lighting design from Kenneth Posner who created some effective storm sequences and the multi use costumes from Jessica Jahn.

Overall this is a joyful and exuberant show with a great cast.  For a rarely seen musical it is definitely a must see.   This production runs at the Paper Mill through June 24th.

Official Paper Mill site

Highlights from the Paper Mill production:

The Original Broadway Cast performs at the Tony Awards:

No comments:

Post a Comment